ESRC Digital Good Network


Examining the role of mobile phones in people’s relationships with themselves and with others

Team: Professor Abigail Millings and Dr Danielle Paddock

silhouette of a head and a figure with line chart, map, digital drives and connection lines

This project aims to understand how digital technology, specifically mobile phone use, influences people’s relationships with themselves and with intimate romantic partners.

Whether this impact is positive or negative is not known as the current research literature is mixed. For instance, a lot of research in the cyberpsychology discipline focuses on examining the digital harm on individuals and relationships instead of the digital good – such as Kross et al., 2002 which found that mobile phone use is associated with negative wellbeing; and Wang et al., 2017 which identified less relationship satisfaction among romantic partners of mobile phone users.

That said, there is also research to suggest digital technology can have a positive impact on wellbeing by reducing anxiety (Cauberghe et al., 2021), and can act as an enabler among romantic partners (Gabbiadina et al., 2020).

Therefore, within this project we want to understand what factors may enhance the relationship between digital technology use and individual and relational wellbeing, and also identify potential harms.

We will collect data at three timepoints across a one-year period and daily for one week, through distributing a survey of psychological measures to examine mobile phone use, relationship quality, wellbeing, and individual characteristics. We will also adopt a qualitative approach to provide an in-depth exploration around mobile phone use and romantic relationships with individuals that are largely underrepresented within psychological research (e.g., ethnic minority individuals, non-digital natives and people from lower socio-economic status backgrounds). By doing this, the findings will help to address some of the questions about how digital technology affects us, both for good, for bad and/or for both, over time, and ensuring perspectives around mobile phone use and romantic relationships are represented.


Danielle 1

Dr Danielle Paddock

Postdoctoral Researcher, Digital Good Network

and Research Associate, Centre for Behavioural Science and Applied Psychology (CeBSAP), Sheffield Hallam University

Danielle is a cyberpsychologist and her research adopts a mixed methods approach. Her research interests are in adolescent development, wellbeing, and mental health in the digital age, with a particular interest in body image and social media. She is also interested in developing, delivering and evaluating educational programmes and digital interventions to tackle these topics.

Abigail Millings

Professor Abigail Millings

Professor of Applied Social Psychology

Centre for Behavioural Science and Applied Psychology (CeBSAP), Sheffield Hallam University

Abigail uses attachment theory and behavioural science to understand how to help people to have more positive relationships with others, as well as how digital technologies can be used to support well-being.

Read about our other projects