5X5 Episode 14

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5X5 Episode 14
April 6th 2008

Transcript Verified Transcript Verified

5X5 13 5X5 15
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
M: Mike Lacelle
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Show Notes
Forum Topic

Nomophobia - the fear of being out of cell phone range.[edit]

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.

S: This is the SGU 5x5 and the topic for this evening is nomophobia or the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. This is being promoted as a new phobia and is being characterized as a plague of our 24/7 age. Articles on this topic estimate that as many as 13 million Britons may be affect by this disorder, nomophobia. Up to 53% of mobile phone users. I say the whole thing is a bunch of malarkey. What do you guys think?

E: It sure smells like malarkey to me.

B: I don't think it is.

R: 53% of mobile phone users have a phobia?

B: That claim might be– yeah– that might be inflated. I'm not disputing the fact that that number– I don't think that number is necessarily correct, but the fact that it's a phobia of sorts, sure. What does it take–

S: What do you mean by 'of sorts'? You said the word phobia – the word phobia is being overused.

R: Yeah.

S: Let me read for you the DMS-IV diagnostic criteria for a phobia. So this is the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual. This is the book by which psychological/psychiatric diagnoses are officially characterized. So here are the diagnostic criteria: 'A marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation. Exposure to the phobic stimulus almost invariably invokes and immediate anxiety response which may take the form of a situationally bound or situationally predisposed panic attack. The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable. The phobic situation is avoided or else is endured with intense anxiety or distress. The avoidance, anxious anticipation or distress in the feared situation interferes significantly with the person's normal routine, occupational or academic functioning or social activities or relationships or there is marked distress about having the phobias.' So, there are some other little details but that you have to reach a certain threshold before you start slapping the word 'phobia' on it. People might have some reasonable anxiety about their phone going dead and then missing a phone call or being inconvenienced by that. But in order to say that it's a phobia, it has to be excessive or unreasonable, provoke an anxiety attack and to actually disrupt your normal routine or life. I doubt that 53% of phone users reach that threshold or anything even near that number.

B: I agree.

E: Boy, think about how many people lose their cell phone service at some point during the day. That's practically everybody. Are you really saying that people going into shutdown mode because they can't get a cell phone signal?

M: I kinda get that when I go to my parent's camp. Once we hit that point, there's just no more signal to my cell phone, I feel kinda disconnected from the rest of the world like I need to get reconnected, like something's missing. It's just a weird feeling, I guess. I don't think it's a phobia, though.

S: Yeah, it doesn't provoke a panic–

M: Right, exactly.

R: Right, there is an interesting story there, in that we've become so used to being connected to the rest of the world all that time, that being without that is certainly jarring. But of course, as usual, the media has to go above and beyond and exaggerate it to the point of phobia and giving it a cutesy name, which is just not all right.

B: Yeah, I agree. I think that number is way up, but I don't doubt that there are a lot of people that go to that extreme. How many? I don't know, but I think it's a valid phobia.

E: Well, do people have previous dispositions for phobias?

S: Sure, but Bob just to also clarify further, it can't be part of another disorder. So, if you're an obsessive compulsive personality type, then it's subsumed under that–

B: Ok.

S: You don't have an additional phobia. So if you're just talking about people that are A-type personalities who may even be a little obsessive compulsive and they do get actually anxious by being out of contact, that doesn't qualify as having a separate psychiatric phobia disorder. I just think there's harm in throwing that term around because it diminishes genuine psychiatric disorders. It waters down the use of such terminology to the point where it becomes meaningless.

R: You know, when you get right of your nomophobia, you have nomonomophobia.


S: Nomonomophobia?


R: Thank you, I'll be here all week.


M: (Mimics drum sting)

R: Try the salad bar.

B: You want to hear some real phobias? I've got some good phobias here that I found. There's the ever-popular, coitophobia, fear of sexual intercourse–

E: Rare.

B: I know many people who have ergophobia, which is fear of work.

E: Oh yeah.

B: And then there's one I just cannot relate to, hedonophobia, fear of pleasure. And there, of course, there's the panphobia–

S: But you can relate to coitophobia, that's what you're saying?


B: And of course there's, then there's panphobia, a non-specific fear of everything.

S: Of everything.


R: That just sucks.

S: We'll just chalk this one up to just one more silly media escapade.

S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.

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