With 2020 approaching, many people will incorporate diet or other areas of self-improvement into a list of resolutions for the new year. In this Baylor Connections, Dr. Meredith David, assistant professor of marketing, delves into her research into phone snubbing and relationships, successful diets and more. David, a nationally-recognized leader in consumer behavior and well-being, offers evidence-based insights and practical tips for phone usage and relationships, dieting strategies and more.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and our guest today is Meredith David. Dr. David is a nationally recognized leader and researcher in the areas of consumer behavior and wellbeing. She's an Assistant Professor of Marketing in Baylor's Hankamer School of Business. Dr. David's researched into smartphone use and social media, the impact of technology on relationships, resolutions, generosity, gift giving, and more. She's been widely published not only in academic journals but in news and entertainment outlets like NBC's Today Show, The Washington Post, Women's Health, Oprah.com, Consumer Reports, and even Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update. We head into a new year here and a lot of people thinking about some of these topics as it relates to our resolutions, health, social media, and more, and so we'll look forward to diving into that with you. Dr. David, thanks so much for joining us. It's great to have you here on the program.
Meredith David:Yes. Thank you for having me.
Derek Smith:Well, I just described your research, and while it covers many different threads, consumer behavior and wellbeing tied all together, what are the questions that most drive you in your research no matter what the broader topic is?
Meredith David:Well, ever since the beginning of my time as a doctoral student, I've really been intrigued by just the fundamental question of why consumers are so often influenced by others around them, and in terms of my research, I've always kind of looked at consumer behavior and how our behaviors impact our wellbeing, but not just our wellbeing, but also the wellbeing of those around us. I've looked at it in lots of different contexts as you just mentioned, but the general gist of it is how can I, through my research, how can I discover new things that can, at the end of the day help consumers out there and help foster their wellbeing? I look at it in lots of different areas, but in broad terms, David Mick has called it transformative consumer research, so it is all research that's focused on enhancing consumer wellbeing.
Derek Smith:When you talk about consumer wellbeing and behavior and how that influences others, as we talk about social media and being able to get so many things so readily and so easily, is that quite the palette for you to use for your research because it seems like a perfect fit.
Meredith David:Absolutely, yeah, so especially since joining Baylor, I have really taken off with a lot of social media research, and one of my good colleagues here at Baylor, Dr. Jim Roberts and I have done a lot of research on smartphones and individuals' tendencies to use their phones no matter where they are, even at the dinner table. We look around restaurants when we go out to eat, and it seems like no one's talking to the people that they're with. Instead, everyone's distracted by their phones. Dr. Roberts and I have done a lot of research on this to figure out what are the implications of these cell phone distractions? Of course, a lot of the time that is spent on cell phones is on social media.
Derek Smith:Well, you mentioned Dr. Roberts. He's Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing. You've done a lot of research with him. What does that look like, and what do each of you bring to that research partnership?
Meredith David:Yeah, well, it's fun and exciting. Dr. Roberts and I, we have a common interest and a shared passion for research that offers really meaningful insight on real timely and practically relevant issues. We don't just want to do consumer research just to get it published and not really have an impact on society. Instead, we let the drivers of our research be real problems in society that we observe, and a big problem that we observe is very commonplace is just the smartphone use.
Derek Smith:How does the research environment... There's a lot of great research coming out of Hankamer and certainly Baylor as a university. How does that research environment shape the work you do and elevate it?
Meredith David:Our marketing department and the college of business and Baylor as a university is very supportive of research. We're real excited about the new mission to become a R1, a Research I institution. I feel that we're well on our way, and I really appreciate just the culture, the supportive culture that we have here at Baylor in my years here since 2014. I've always been given the resources that I needed and the support that I needed to conduct any of my research.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We're visiting with Dr. Meredith David, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Baylor. We mentioned that as we approach the new year, a lot of people are making resolutions, planning changes to improve whether it's their quality of life or just desired goals, so probably in a lot of ways comes back to that idea of quality of life for themselves or the people around them. Want to introduce a couple of the areas that people often want to address: their health and their relationships. I think you've kind of touched on it already even as you talk about smartphones and its impact on our relationships with people around us, but what are some of the areas that we can dive into a little later on that really most relate to that idea of the new year changes people want to make?
Meredith David:Yeah, I would say in terms of my research and guidance for the new year and thinking about new year's resolutions, I have suggestions related to our smartphone use and then also some suggestions related to dieting because dieting is a big new year's resolution. It's probably one of the more common ones. Those two areas where my research really informs and can inform consumers as to what strategies they may need to take.
Derek Smith:Let's look into both of those. Starting with smartphones, we've seen a lot of your research into phubbing... For people who don't know, what is phubbing exactly?
Meredith David:Yes. Well, phubbing stands for a phone snubbing, and it's the behavior of being distracted by your cell phone when you're spending time with others. Again, if we think about if you're in a restaurant eating dinner, you look around, and it's more commonplace than not that at least one person at each table is distracted by their phone, and they're ignoring the person that they're with. That would be them engaging in phubbing, or phone snubbing the person that they're with because they're distracted by their phone rather than paying attention to their face-to-face interaction partner.
Derek Smith:I think we all inherently know that our smart phones, it can be a little addictive, it can be a little distracting. There's always something interesting, but as a marketer, as someone very interested in consumer behavior, what is it about smart phones that are just so... sticky is a term sometimes people use. It can really hook you in. What is it from a pure marketing researcher standpoint that's just so hard to disentangle ourselves from?
Meredith David:Well, we get excited at the thought of checking our social media too to scroll and see what's going on. If our phone beeps, we get a text message or a phone call's coming in. We get excited to look at that. Also, today, with a lot of workplaces, it's becoming more commonplace for the lines to be blurred between work and when you get home at the end of the day, so a lot of individuals, even though they're off work and they're at home for the evening, they're still working in that regard. They're checking their emails. They're taking business phone calls and things like that.
Derek Smith:Now, Dr. David, what are some of the ways that you've studied the impact of cell phones, cell phone usage on our interpersonal relationships?
Meredith David:I've looked at phubbing, so phone snubbing, and the implications of that for romantic relationships, and our data has showed across numerous studies that partner phubbing, so if your relationship partner is distracted by his or her cell phone instead of catering to you and instead of interacting with you when y'all are face to face, that's going to make you have lower relationship satisfaction. Actually, it has worse downstream effects such as it can increase your feelings of depression, your feelings of anxiety, and it can lower your overall wellbeing. We've looked at phubbing in a relationship context with romantic partners, but we've also looked at it in a general context. If you're just out at dinner with your friends or interacting with your friends, and your friends are distracted by their smartphones, what are the implications of that? Again, we've noticed that it's downstream negative effects on overall wellbeing.
Derek Smith:You mentioned some of those personal health aspects, mental health, anxiety or what have you, depression. What are some of the ways that when we're around a significant other or friends who are phone snubbing us, what impact does that have on our more immediate behaviors?
Meredith David:Yeah, I'm glad you asked that because it's a little bit worrisome because our research has shown a vicious cyclical effect such that if we're out at dinner, say it's us, it's you and your relationship partner, your relationship partner is phubbing you, that is, they're distracted by their phone, it's often that you will then pick up your phone and also turn to social media in hopes to fulfill that kind of need for interaction at the moment. It's a kind of a vicious cyclical effect because what we're seeing is that phubbing behavior and being phubbed can actually because you to become the person that's going to be phubbing people.
Derek Smith:That's that vicious cycle that you talk about as we visit with Dr. Meredith David, so how can we assess our own behaviors in that? What are some questions that people should ask themselves or as a couple perhaps kind of talking through issues like these?
Meredith David:I would say as you try to think of your own smartphone and cell phone behaviors, first, try to be cognizant of it because it's so often that we have a momentary distraction that's caused by our cell phone, and we don't really think that it's going to have an impact if we, say, interrupt the conversation we're having with our spouse or our parents or our children to look at our phone for a second. We kind of assume it's not going to have an effect. A lot of times, we're not even conscious that we're looking at our phone there. But the research has shown that even momentary distractions signal to the person that you're with that whatever's on your phone is more important than your interactions with them, and so firstly, I would recommend that people just try to be cognizant of some of their use of their phones. Also, when you're with people that are very close to you or if you're at the dinner table or kind of important setting, put your phone away. I don't mean leave it on the table because our research has shown that having the phone on the table is almost just as bad as explicitly phubbing the person because just by having the phone sitting there on the table, you're sending a signal to the person that you're with that, "Hey, my phone is more important than you because the second it beeps, I'm going to pick it up and look at it." I would suggest to individuals, when you're at the dinner or spending time with loved ones, put your phone just completely out of sight because the time that you're going to have and the face-to-face interactions you're going to have with those loved ones is way more important than any email that may come through or any social media post.
Derek Smith:Now, maybe sometimes they need to get the notifications, but should people put it on airplane mode because the buzz if your phone's on silent, or the beep, and that kind of jolts you out of whatever other reality you're in.
Meredith David:Right. Yep. I would say turn it off and put it away out of sight. There are some instances where maybe you have an emergency situation happening at home, and so you need to kind of be on call. If that's the case, then just be explicit with those loved ones you're spending time with and let them know, "Hey, I'm sorry I'm dealing with a situation. I may have to take a phone call," but just let them know ahead of time of the situation.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Dr. Meredith David, Assistant Professor of Marketing in Baylor's Hankamer's School of Business. You talk about the impact it has on a loved one on a romantic partner, whether it's anxiety or depression or things like that. How aware are we of when that's happening to us? Now, obviously, we all know people who have no problem saying, "Put your phone away, pay... " Parents, you might see a parent saying that to their kids, but the impact that it's having, whether it's annoyance, short-term or something more broad, long-term, how aware are we of what's happening to us in that situation?
Meredith David:We're not really aware of it because we're pretty much addicted to phones these days, and we're using them without being conscious of it. We're only cautious of them when we don't have the phone around. That's when we start to panic and start feeling anxious if our phones, say, goes dead or if we don't have our phone around for an hour or two. We start to feel these uncomfortable feelings which are an early... Those sorts of feelings are early signs of some form of addiction, so it's a little bit worrisome. We've also looked at phubbing not just in the romantic context and the general relationship context, but also in a workplace context. We've looked at boss phubbing. If you're at a work meeting, and you're in a meeting with your manager or your boss, and your boss is distracted by his or her phone, what does that make you as a subordinate employee? How does that make you feel? We have consistent results across several studies that boss phubbing lowers an employee's engagement, lowers their satisfaction with their job, and it lowers their performance because they just don't feel that their boss has their best interest at heart. They don't feel as motivated to perform as well as they can.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Meredith David. Dr. David, are there any positive aspects that you would encourage people to think about too is whether it's their phone, social media that they can take away in terms of... You mentioned putting phones away is one thing they can do. Are there positive aspects of it or healthy ways to approach it?
Meredith David:The one thing I would say is if you are going to be on your phone and you are going to be on social media, try to use that time on social media to foster interactions and to foster relationships. What I'm saying is use the social media in an active way, so actively communicate with others because research has shown that passive use of social media, like for example, just scrolling your newsfeed, looking at people's posts but not engaging at all, passive use like that is very unhealthy because it's not going to make you feel good, and it's not going to fulfill any of your need for connection. If you're going to use a social media, if you're going to spend time on it, do it in a manner that's going to foster your interpersonal relationships and social connections.
Derek Smith:Well, social media, interpersonal relationships, the health of those relationships, certainly one thing people maybe think about in the new year. Another would be as we shift topics now, Inc. Magazine found that, once again, dieting is far and away the most common at new year's resolution. You've done studies on this topic and examine often why diets aren't successful, so what difference can the right approach make in the success or lack thereof?
Meredith David:It can make all the difference. In these studies, I was really motivated by lists that I would see like in the headlines. Especially around new year's, you'll see "the top 10 foods you should never eat" or "the 10 most fattening foods" or "the 10 superfoods everyone should eat every day." I was interested in these different types of lists, that is, lists that are telling consumers that are giving consumers rolls of things to restrict versus things to proactively consume. I started to think about this in terms of just the natural tendencies of many dieters. In interviewing people, it became clear that for most of us, if we want to go on a diet or, say, lose a few pounds, our first thought is to restrict something that we really like, so I'm going to cut out all the cake, I'm going to cut out all carbs. These sorts of strategies through my research I've found out that they are not the best way to go about it. By restricting yourself from consuming your most favorite items, you're actually setting yourself up for failure in your pursuit to reach your goal there. Instead, you should try to set a more motivating kind of approach to it by telling yourself, "Let me try to consume these healthy items that I really enjoy." One of the titles of one of the papers is, it gets it, Cake Versus Kale. Should you tell yourself, if you want to go on a diet and lose five pounds, should you tell yourself to avoid cake and avoid all desserts, or instead, should you say, "I'm going to eat kale or eat some healthy items that I actually enjoy?" The data has shown that by focusing on healthy foods you actually enjoy, so maybe strawberries, avocado, peanut butter, blueberries, by focusing on those items and actively consuming them, at the end of the day, you may find that you're not even craving those unhealthy items like the cake.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Meredith David. When we think about trying to make some of these changes, what role does outside influences have on us? Advertising, social media, the ways that we are marketed to sometimes for things that aren't the best for us, what impact did those have on the ways we process our attempts to diet and pursue better?
Meredith David:A big way that marketers can impact us is through product labels. You see items that "90-calorie packs" or items that have the labels that say "low fat" or "low sugar." Many times, because consumers that are trying to go on a diet, they naturally are telling themselves to restrict something, so restrict calories or restrict their sugar or restrict their fat consumption. Then when they go into the marketplace, the grocery store, and they're faced with these labels that say "low fat" or "low sugar," those items then all of a sudden become items that are going to be allowed in the individual's diet because they're consistent with that restrictive strategy of lowering sugar or lowering that are lower in calories. But what's going to happen at the end of the day is the consumer's going to buy those, and they're never going to actually feel satisfied, so instead of buying the 90-calorie packs and ending up eating for the 90-calorie packs instead of just one to get satisfied, you should take a different approach. Don't focus on restricting anything. Instead, focus on actually actively consuming healthy items that you enjoy. It's okay to have the cake every now and then. Moderation is key, but in terms of the mental process, you don't want your key focus, everything that you're thinking about to be avoiding or restricting something that you really like.
Derek Smith:Is it just as simple as it's hard to keep saying no over and over whereas it's easier to find something that's healthier and say yes to that. Is it just that simple?
Meredith David:Yeah. You're going to want... You're going to be thinking about it. If I tell myself I can't eat cake, I'm going to be thinking about cake all the time, which is going to make me want it even more and more and more, whereas if I tell myself, "Eat more blueberries," I'm going to eat those blueberries. Then I'm going to feel really good because I just made a step in pursuing my diet. I've done something good, and chances are, at the end of the day, I'm not even going to want the cake.
Derek Smith:Talking with Dr. Meredith David. Dr. David, as we head into the final couple of moments on the program, we talk about consumer behavior from a couple of different angles here, whether it's phone snubbing, whether it's from diet, and tying it all together, are there overarching... The world we live in has a whole lot of influences, a whole lot of distractions. You hear pretty mind boggling numbers about how many interruptions or advertising messages we receive in a day. Is there an overarching healthy way to just approach that vast array of offerings and outside influences in the new year?
Meredith David:I would say to try to be cognizant of your behaviors and try to focus on what you can have, what you can do, what you should have more of, and what are the healthy things that you enjoy that you should have more of, and try to take a positive approach.
Derek Smith:Well, Dr. Meredith David, Assistant Professor Marketing, Baylor's Hankamer School of Business, has been great to have you on the program. Hopefully, people have taken away some things that they can apply here in 2020, which will be here in just a few more days. Thank you so much for joining us.
Meredith David:Thanks for having me.
Derek Smith:Thank you, Dr. Meredith David, a nationally recognized leader in research in the areas of consumer behavior and wellbeing, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. Happy New Year to everyone. Thanks so much for joining us. Reminder, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.