BEHAVIOUR which developed thousands of years ago could still be determining how people use mobile phones, according to North East research.
Analysing the call patterns of 1.3 million mobile phone users, a Newcastle University team found that in uncomfortable weather – such as very hot, humid, wet or cold conditions – call length increased but the number of people users contacted went down.
Research leader Dr Santi Phithakkitnukoon said that, apparently “isolating” ourselves during more unpleasant weather, the data showed callers were also more likely to contact close friends and family than their wider network.
This tendency may stretch back many thousands of years to the human impulse to turn to individuals with whom one has a strong bond when situations become trying.
“The weather impacts on a number of aspects of human behaviour, including mood,” said Dr Phithakkitnukoon.
“Perhaps when the weather makes people feel not so positive, they call someone to whom they are close for support and to make them feel better.”
He said the study offered an insight into how phone use data sets could help understand human relations and interactions.
“The fact that mobile phones have become an indispensable part of many people’s lives means that they provide an opportunity to measure human behaviour and social dynamics like never before,” said Dr Phithakkitnukoon, an expert in social computing at Newcastle University’s Culture Lab.
“The weather is well known to influence human behaviour. Our mood, health and how active are all vary with the weather. Our research suggests our mobile phone addiction is also susceptible to changes in the weather.
“We found that during uncomfortable weather our ‘ringing anyone’ behaviour declined, talking on the phone for longer to our close friends and family more than our wider network.”
The team then categorised calls into two types – strong and weak social ties.
“Strong ties are people who are socially close to us and whose social circles closely overlap with our own,” said Dr Phithakkitnukoon.
“The key to this is not call length but reciprocal calls – that is how often we call them and, crucially, how often they call us back.”
On the question of why many people find it impossible to walk along a street without being riveted to their mobile phone, he said they were no longer just a device for making calls.
“Smart phones are also entertainment devices and can be very addictive. People can entertain themselves all day long, ” he said.
He is now considering research on how much constant mobile phone use and checking isolates users from the real world and the community.
He said that some users had two personalities – introverted and quiet behaviour in the real world but the opposite on social networking sites.
The team also suggests that mobile phones could play a role in helping planners to develop smarter cities that more closely reflect the way we live, work and play in the 21st Century.
When the weather makes people feel not so positive, they call someone to whom they are close to make them feel better