Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Whitney DeCamp

Second Advisor

Dr. Elena Gapova

Third Advisor

Dr. Jesse Smith

Fourth Advisor

Dr. R. Kirk Mauldin


Cell phone use, social capital, technology, experiment, small groups, digital communication


This study examines the cause and effect relationship between the use of cell phones, which are the widest spread communication technology in the modern day, and the formation of social capital which occurs among members of small groups. Previous research into the effects of cell phone use has primarily focused on individual-level effects, such as texting while driving, leaving a gap in our understanding of the technology’s larger social implications. One social process that cell phones may affect is social capital, or the networks of assistance which exist in our lives, and the associated norms of trust and reciprocity therein. As an important aspect of our social lives, anything that may influence social capital (positively or negatively) is worth a thorough examination. Trends in both social capital and the use of cell phones suggest that there may be negative effects when it comes to the formation of social capital in the first place. Using social capital formation (calling upon others for aid and developing a sense of trust and reciprocity) as the main dependent variable, this study tests a number of hypotheses related to differences in interactions between members of a group in the presence and absence of cell phone use.

Utilizing an experimental design, undergraduate participants from a Midwestern university are placed into experimental (able to use cell phones) and control (not able to use cell phones) groups, and asked to work through a small task during a testing period. Quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection and analysis (including t-tests, regressions and path analysis) are employed to understand how group members worked together and how they felt about their interactions. The results from this study indicate an overall negative impact of cell phones use on social capital formation, with differences in the types and degrees of interactions, and feelings of trust and reciprocity, occurring in the presence and absence of cell phone use. This relationship is nuanced by demographic considerations and the influence of perceived interaction quality. This study has implications for theoretical understandings and future research, offering insight to the impacts of technology on our social world.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access