Social Expectancy Increases Skin Conductance Response in Mobile Instant Messaging Users


Background: Society is witnessing two parallel phenomena: an increase in the number of mobile phone users worldwide and a growing concern about problematic smartphone use. Leading explanatory models suggest that social reward may explain some problematic smartphone use. Given that experimental evidence about the impact of social variables on problematic smartphone use is scarce, the impact of social expectancy on emotional arousal measured with skin conductance response (SCR) was analysed during instant messaging. Method: A sample of 86 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to two groups. Experimental group participants were instructed to send a social expectation-generating message to their more active contacts in their preferred social network. After experiencing a virtual reality distraction environment, participants’ SCR was measured when they were allowed to use the smartphone and when it was withdrawn. Results: Participants in the experimental group showed a higher SCR response than the control group. Peaks analysis also showed that peak amplitude was higher in experimental participants when their smartphones were used and withdrawn. Experimental participants also showed a longer half recovery time when using the smartphone. Conclusions: Social expectancy is a critical variable in understanding problematic smartphone use and it should be considered in clinical contexts.




  • Nesplora Aquarium (Nesplora Giunti Psychometrics) virtual reality task was used as distraction task. This software provides a visual and auditory immersion in a virtual reality environment (an underground glass wall aquarium room).
  • As a compensation for their participation in the research, participants were provided with the Nesplora automatically generated report of their attentional and executive functions.

This paper cites the normative study for Nesplora Aquarium:

  • Climent, G., Rodríguez, C., Trinidad García, D. A., Mejías, M., Aierbe, A., Moreno, M., Cueto, E., Castellá, J., & González, M. F. (2019). New virtual reality tool (Nesplora Aquarium) for assessing attention and working memory in adults: A normative study. Applied Neuropsychology: Adult, 28(4), 403-415.

Full text:

Ruiz-Ruano, A. M., Sánchez-Kuhn, A., Flores, P., & López Puga, J. (2023). Social expectancy increases skin conductance response in mobile instant messaging users. Psicothema, 35(4), 414-422.

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