If you think that using smartphone at the dinner table is killing conversations and ruining relationships, just relax. A quick text or even attending a phone call from your boss may be okay but not playing Candy Crush or chatting on Facebook.
According to the researchers, not all phone use is perceived at meal time as bad. For example, texting and answering a phone call are both considered more appropriate than being on social media.
"These results are interesting because they challenge the idea that using your phone during a shared meal is categorically inappropriate. What we find is that attitudes are much more nuanced than that," said Carol Moser, doctoral student at University of Michigan's school of information.
"A quick text or even phone call with your boss might be okay. Watching someone across the table thumb through their Facebook feed, that's different," Moser added. To reach this conclusion, the team surveyed 1,163 people between ages eight and 88 in English-speaking countries around the world.
The survey revealed that people's attitudes about whether or not you should be using a mobile phone at mealtimes depends heavily on what you are doing, and who else is at the table. The researchers think this might be because texting and talking on the phone are both brief activities whereas using social media can take much longer.
This was at least true for adults. However, children texting is rated as less appropriate, probably because children are perceived to be largely socialising with their friends and they do it a lot more than adults.
Regardless of activity, the study found that the older the participant, the more appropriate they perceive using mobile phones at meals to be but this peaks by the mid-20s. Above that age, perceived appropriateness of use declines with age.
However, both adults and children generally agree that it is more appropriate for adults to use a phone at meals than for children to. In fact, the mere presence of a child at a meal decreases the perceived appropriateness of adults using their phones.
"People have done other activities during meals like reading a newspaper or watching the television for years. But smartphones introduce a new challenge," noted co-author Sarita Schoenebeck, assistant professor of information.
"You can't tell what someone else is doing on their smartphone, so you have no idea if they're ignoring you in order to reply to an urgent email or to play Candy Crush Saga," she added.
The researchers suggest that smartphone developers might build more visibility into the devices. For example, a phone might be able to detect that a user is at a meal and ask her if the activity is important to finish now or if she would like to wait until after the meal.