The Vibration of Your Phone May Be Impacting You More Than You Know


Your phone can vibrate, your Fitbit might buzz when you hit a step goal, and your controller might “rumble” during a video game: More and more technologies have a tactile component.  We know that touch affects people— feeling a soft fabric or getting an encouraging pat on the back can change how you feel about a situation. But until now there has been no research on the psychological implications of getting tactile feedback from a device.

In a study reported in the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers found that a vibration accompanying a positive text message can help the person getting the message feel better about the interaction. Messages with vibration alerts can even improve people’s performance on fitness tasks. A simple buzz can do all of this because it increases the receiver’s sense of “social presence,” the authors found. These results could be valuable to mobile marketers and developers of fitness apps and wearable tech.

Professor Ana Valenzuela of the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College and Ph.D. graduate Rhonda Hadi, now a professor at Oxford University, authored the study.

All the study participants were given a phone that occasionally received encouraging texts, and then were challenged to take as many steps as possible in four minutes. The people whose phones vibrated when they got one of the cheery messages took more steps than those whose phones just beeped. The researchers saw the same effect when the volunteers wore smart-watches, showing that the effect isn’t limited to phones.

The key, the study revealed, is that the tactile component made participants feel more like there was a real person on the other end, turning what could be a cold, technological interaction into a warmer, more human one.

Insights into what makes consumers feel good about messages and interactions on their devices is crucial for mobile advertising, a sector which could spend over $187 billion this year, the authors said. In the current explosion of wearable fitness devices, research on how to encourage people to move is invaluable too. But it would also be worth researching the effect of tactile feedback — also known as haptic technology — on other activities, Valenzuela and Hadi noted, and exploring types of feedback other than vibrations.

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work

Good Vibrations: Consumer Responses to Technology-Mediated Haptic Feedback
Journal of Consumer Research, 2019

Work By

Ana Valenzuela (Professor , Marketing and International Business) | Profile 1 | Profile 2

Colleges and Schools

Baruch College