Bling Is A Cultural Thing When It Comes To Your Smartphone
July 11, 2014

Smartphone Makers Should Provide More Bling For Your Ring

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

Researchers from the United States and South Korea have delved into one of the more personal aspects of the lives of citizens in North America and Asia to demonstrate another major difference between the East and the West. It turns out how we customize our mobile devices is based less on personal expression and more on cultural norms.

The researchers found that people from Eastern cultures display a more pronounced preference for changing both the look and sound of their mobile phones than people living in Western countries, according to S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Penn State.

“People who live in collectivist cultures are often more other-directed,” Sundar explained in a recent statement. “They want to know how others might look at them and also look to others as a way of influencing their own behaviors.”

The results were arrived at after students at both American and South Korean universities were surveyed on how they customized their mobile phones. The researchers also asked them how they perceived their social identity and what, if any, efforts they engaged in to self-promote.

The mobile phone accessory business is very lucrative in South Korea, Japan and other Eastern countries. People in those countries often opt to add items to their phones, such as charms, cases, bags and stickers. Additionally, they are more likely to add or change their ringtones and home screen wallpapers.

Americans, on the other hand, are far less likely to customize their phones to the degree students in South Korea and other Eastern countries do. The researchers claim this is due to the fact that Americans tend to value self-expression to a higher degree while worrying less about how others might perceive them and their actions.

The student surveys revealed that Koreans were more focused on ensuring they fit into social situations. Additionally, Koreans were more likely to look at the actions of their peers and others to give them cues on acceptable behavior. Sundar's South Korean counterpart, Seoyeon Lee, is a mobile user-interface and user-experience researcher at LG Electronics in Seoul.

The findings, published in an upcoming issue of the journal Media Psychology, show that individuals do not view their mobile phones so much as a tool, but rather as an extension of themselves.

"The more you customize your phone for aesthetic reasons the more it reflects who you are," said Sundar. "You see your phone as your self."

Interestingly, while Americans tend to customize their devices less than their Korean counterparts, the study found that regardless of Eastern or Western origin, once a device had been customized, a stronger attachment to the phone was the result.

According to the research team, this above finding should be heeded by tech companies as they may want to work to provide more ways for a consumer to customize their phone, thus enhancing the feeling of attachment.

"Tools for aesthetic customization can enhance people's attachment to a device, regardless of culture," said Sundar. "In this study we looked at phones, but it could also apply to other information technology products that people use in public, such as iPads."

"This may differ from one county to another," said Lee. “Phone manufacturers sell different designs, colors and accessories in different countries,” she added.

Another finding from the study was how it reinforced previous research that detailed how people are more and more connected to their cellular phones.

"If you ask people what objects they want to make sure they have with them when they leave their house, usually their phone is in the top three, along with keys and money," Sundar said.

The joint study, funded by the South Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, surveyed 400 US students and 205 Korean students to arrive at their findings.


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