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Story tips, concerns, questions?

By Julissa James

Staff Writer

Prominent journalist Anderson Cooper interviewed faculty members Nancy A. Cheever and Larry Rosen for an episode of “60 Minutes” in the Dominguez Den on March 30.

The episode, which aired on Sunday, featured Cheever and Rosen sharing their research on smartphone dependency with Cooper, who believes understanding our relationship to our devices is essential.

Anderson Cooper and Nancy A. Cheever on set
Communications Chair Nancy A. Cheever tests Anderson Cooper’s response when separated from his cell phone.

“I think it’s interesting,” Cooper said. “We all use our phones and they’re such a big part of our lives. To understand the science behind it is really important. It helps make you think about what you’re doing and maybe alter some of your behavior.”

Cheever, who is professor and chair of the Communications Department looks into the effects smartphone dependency has on emotional states and the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s flight or fight response and other crucial bodily functions.

Rosen, professor emeritus of psychology, looks at the way cell phone dependency negatively affects the brain and how this can increase anxiety levels.

Since the interview was done over spring break, the Den, which is normally hectic with students on study breaks and the sound of blenders from the coffee shop, was devoid of much action.

The few students who did linger on campus and much of the library staff stared from the sidelines with looks of disbelief, and ironically with their smartphones out, trying as discreetly as they could to snap a photo of Cooper.

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During his interview, Rosen talked about the characteristics that make a “heavy” smartphone user. He explained  how these people have a hard time being separated from their phones, and when they are, their anxiety levels spike.

Cooper responded that the “heavy user” Rosen was describing sounded a lot like him.

Rosen felt at ease being interviewed by what he calls one of the best journalists in the world, describing the experience as extremely enjoyable.

“He is knowledgeable and well versed in the topic but the interview felt like I was talking to a friend,” he said.

Cheever, who was a journalist for many years, was impressed with how professional and ethical Cooper and the rest of the production team was on set.

“It was an honor,” she said. “I’ve been watching ‘60 Minutes’ since I was a teenager. I completely respect that news outlet, they are the best journalists in the country.”

Currently, Rosen and Cheever are testing the physiological arousal of participants when they get notifications on their phone they are unable to check, a study they conducted on Cooper himself inside the George Marsh Applied Cognition Laboratory.

Cheever tested Cooper’s electro dermal activity, or perspiration, while sending texts to his phone that he was unable to access. Although the stoic journalist did not have a large spike in activity at first, after a few texts and a phone call, his physiological response levels raised significantly.

None of us are immune to cell phone dependency, not even Cooper. That is why Andrew Bast, one of the episode’s producers, thinks reporting on this topic is so critical.

“We think it’s a really important story to do because it’s something that people think they already understand,” Bast said. “They think they understand the relationship to the phone and how they spend time with technology but by talking to Nancy Cheever and Larry Rosen, we think we’ll be able to offer a couple more insights to folks so they can have a fuller understanding of the way social media and smartphones are taking over their day and even taking over their lives.”

Cheever does recognize that smartphones have made positive contributions to our society, like being able to communicate with people all across the globe, but this connection, she says, is still artificial.

Everyone has the capacity to create a healthy relationship with their devices, Cheever said. She recommends users take time away from their smartphones at least every 90 minutes and stimulate their brains in a different way, whether it’s meditation, taking a walk or simply looking at nature.

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