The vulnerability and anxiety of checking your partner’s phone: the psychology behind phone snooping

An image to illustrate phone snooping
© iStock/AntonioGuillem

What are the motivations behind checking your partner’s phone? Or even a friend or colleague’s. A new study examines the psychology behind phone snooping, and how this relates to vulnerability and anxiety in relationships.

According to the researchers, the prime time for phone snooping is when the smartphone owner is in the bathroom. They assessed the anxiety and vulnerability behind this action and its consequences, including why checking your partner’s phone can lead to the end of a relationship.

When checking your partner’s phone ends a relationship

The study author Ivan Beschastnikh, a professor of computer science at UBC, said: “In cases where the relationship ended, it was either because the phone owner felt their trust was betrayed or the relationship was also experiencing difficulties. Another main reason was the relationship was not that strong or important to begin with, as was the case with two work friends where one stole valuable contact information from the other’s cellphone.”

In other cases, the phone snooping did not spell the end of the relationship. Beschastnikh added: “In such cases, the victim explained away the snooping by considering it as a sign that they should reassure their romantic partner about their commitment to the relationship. They ended up excusing the behaviour and, in some cases, continued to give the other person access to their phone.”

Why do people engage in phone snooping?

Beschastnikh explained: “The fact that people snoop is widely known, but we know much less about exactly why they do what they do, and about the eventual impact on their relationships. This study contributes new insights to that discussion straight from those who have experienced snooping, and hopefully prompts more research down the line.”

The human factors of cybersecurity

The study co-author Konstantin Beznosov, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who studies the human and social aspects cybersecurity and privacy believes that this study highlights the critical role of human factors in online security. Beznosov commented: “It all comes down to who you allow to use your phone, whether you trust them or they trust you, and what the parameters for your relationship with them are. Given that partners, kids, friends and colleagues can easily observe or guess your PIN and other types of passcodes, you can restrict access to your phone with biometrics identification, which is available on most phones and hard to circumvent.”

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