Mobile phones have become a ubiquitous technology and their use is widespread internationally. However, there appear to be differences in terms of technology use across various geographical regions according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Recently, ITU Facts and Figures 2017 [1
] demonstrated that mobile phone use has experienced the largest growth compared with other technologies over the last two decades. More specifically, worldwide mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants were 15.5 in 2001, 76.6 in 2010, and 103.5 in 2017. At the same time, subscriptions for landline telephones were 16.6 in 2001, 17.8 in 2010, and 13 in 2017. According to a study by ProQuest [2
], the number of scientific papers and reports published on this topic has grown markedly. The study examined 26 scientific databases simultaneously (e.g., PsycINFO) using the search terms “mobile phone” or “cell* phone” and “smartphone”. It was reported that 490 academic outputs were published in 2001, 3225 in 2010, and 8224 in 2017 (these results referred to scholarly peer-reviewed journal articles, as well as trade journals, magazines, conference proceedings, and other reports).
Negative aspects related to mobile phone use are often conceptualised within the umbrella term of Problematic Mobile Phone Use (PMPU; [3
]). According to Billieux and colleagues [4
], PMPU can be understood as a heterogeneous and multidimensional construct involving the potential negative effects of mobile phone use. Accordingly, these authors formulated an integrative pathway model to account for the various types of problematic mobile phone use (i.e., dangerous, prohibited/antisocial, and dependent). Based on this model, each pathway to mobile phone overuse (i.e., extraversion pathway, reassurance-seeking pathway, impulsive pathway) is underlain by specific psychosocial factors and individual differences. Although maladaptive mobile phone use was initially considered a public health issue in child and adolescent populations [8
], over the past decade, mobile phone use has been considered to involve potential risks for all populations across the different dimensions of problematic use, namely dangerous, prohibited, or dependent use [4
Regarding general health issues traditionally associated with mobile phone use, several studies have shown significant associations between mobile phone use and users’ lifestyles and wellbeing. For example, Ezoe and colleagues [11
] found that PMPU among Japanese female college students was associated with poor sleep, low physical activity, decreased work performance, and skipping breakfast. Similarly, Gallimberti and colleagues [12
] observed that reading books, higher school marks, and longer hours of sleep were associated with low PMPU in Italian adolescents. Conversely, and in line with previous studies, other authors have reported PMPU to be positively associated with stress, depression, sleep disturbances, extraversion, female gender, young age, and poor academic or professional competence or performance [13
]. Furthermore, Yang and colleagues [13
] investigated the health and psychological problems associated with mobile phone use in adolescent Southern Taiwanese students and found that PMPU was associated with aggression, insomnia, smoking, suicidal tendencies, and low self-esteem.
For instance, two studies analysing young Swedish adults’ perceptions of the need of being available at all times via their mobile phones [14
] reported that mobile phone use was positively associated with stress, depression, and sleep disorders. Similarly, a recent systematic review carried out by Elhai and colleagues [16
] found that PMPU was usually related to depression, anxiety, chronic stress, and low self-esteem. However, only depression and anxiety were consistently related to this problematic use, with medium and small effect sizes, respectively. In another paper, the same authors even stated that while depression was inversely associated with social PMPU (e.g., social networking, messaging), anxiety was positively related to problematic use as a process or being consumption-based (e.g., news consumption, entertainment, relaxation) [17
Associated behaviours, such as dependency and/or compulsiveness, have also been reported when individuals check their phone display, and even when not interacting with their mobile phone directly. This is because auditory and/or tactile notifications prompt thoughts that affect attention, and which negatively impact on performance [18
] (a phenomenon coined as ‘technoference’; such use of mobile phones results in conflicts in interpersonal relationships and decreased wellbeing [19
]). In addition to this, physical reactions, such as headaches and heat sensations, have been reported. In the same vein, Bickham and colleagues [20
] found associations between PMPU and depression in North American adolescents. In sum, the existing evidence on smartphone use suggests a clear association between PMPU and decreased wellbeing, especially in young populations worldwide.
In relation to dangerous mobile phone use, PMPU has initially been negatively associated with safety behaviours [1
], such as using mobile phones when driving, cycling, or walking. The importance of this factor is supported by the development of specific policies and regulations related to mobile phone use (i.e., to prevent road accidents). A study conducted in China [21
] assessed unintentional injuries (i.e., road traffic injuries, pedestrian collisions, and falls) due to mobile phone use and psychopathological symptoms in adolescence. The most prevalent injury was collisions (followed by falls and other injuries), where adolescents experienced PMPU, as well as negative emotional, behavioural, and social adaptation symptoms. Another study from the United States (US) [22
] reviewed the associations between motor vehicle crashes and PMPU in adolescents because drivers between 16 and 19 years in the US are the most likely to die as a consequence of distractions caused by mobile phones. The review evidenced that half of all adolescents texted on their mobile phone while driving.
Prohibition of mobile phone use (or its regulation) is another specific aspect of PMPU, and is usually associated with legal or public regulations. However, some individuals do not abstain from using phones in such circumstances (i.e., public spaces, such as libraries, cinemas, or theatres). According to Takao and colleagues [23
], personality traits may be associated with these types of behaviours, such as self-monitoring (i.e., traits related to the tendency to control and regulate the public self) and approval motivations (i.e., the need for favourable evaluations from others). Both are associated with an extraverted personality, as indicated by previous research [14
] because individuals with the extraversion trait are sensitive to social cues and peer pressure, which involves being prone to risk behaviours when using mobile phones constantly, even when their use is banned. This aspect of problematic mobile phone use can also be related to the fact that individuals use mobile phones in a way that interferes with social situations. A prototypical example is the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by using one’s mobile phone instead of interacting, a phenomenon referred to as “phubbing” [24
The most studied type of negative outcome associated with mobile phone use is dependence, also conceptualised as a genuine addictive behaviour by some researchers [9
]. The introduction of the internet and instant messaging (IM) on mobile phones (i.e., smartphones) has been associated with mobile phone dependence [21
]. Moreover, it has also been associated with sociability levels of mobile phone users [27
] and peer pressure [28
]. However, studies examining peer pressure have reported slightly contradictory findings [29
], where PMPU has not necessarily been associated with peer support or social acceptance. Therefore, it appears there is a potential association between mobile phone dependence (especially texting) and levels of sociability in adolescent and young adult populations [27
]. Other factors usually associated with this type of problematic use include emotional symptoms (e.g., stress, anxiety, and depression [31
]), reward seeking [26
], and heightened impulsivity [2
]. Moreover, specific mobile phone use patterns have also been associated with dependent use, except for some entertainment uses, such as downloading or playing mobile games [26
], or using the mobile phone for travel bookings, online payments, and online shopping [34
In sum, on the one hand, a few authors have claimed that the negative nature of dependent mobile phone use is not always severe, such as Chung [36
], who argued that levels of dependence in South Korean female adolescent mobile phone users (i.e., withdrawal, maladjustment, tolerance, obsession, and flashiness) are associated with high levels of interpersonal solidarity (i.e., shared sentiments, intimacy, and similarities). Similarly, other scholars [37
] have alerted researchers concerning the risk of overpathologizing everyday life behaviours in the context of behavioural addictions research, such as PMPU. On the other hand, Chóliz [38
] has claimed that mobile phone addiction is a clinically relevant condition. Therefore, further research is warranted to assess the underlying motivations behind dependent use.
In relation to the cross-cultural assessment of PMPU, only a few studies have been conducted [39
]. A number of different scales have been used [5
], and according to a literature review by Pedrero and colleagues [42
], the ‘gold standard’ scale is the Mobile Phone Problem Use Scale (MPPUS [3
]). Unfortunately, the MPPUS is a unidimensional scale, which is problematic given the hypothesized multi-dimensional nature of PMPU. Moreover, the structural validity of the MPPUS was only tested with exploratory factor analysis (EFA), and needs to be confirmed in further studies using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and measurement invariance (MI). Another contemporary instrument to assess PMPU is the Problematic Mobile Phone Use Questionnaire (PMPUQ; [4
]), which allows the measurement of the multi-dimensional nature of PMPU and was validated through the conjoint use of EFAs and CFAs. The scale assesses the three aforementioned specific types of PMPU. It was initially developed with a four-factor solution, but was recently reduced to a shorter version with three factors (dangerous use, prohibited use, and dependence) and updated to contemporary smartphone use (PMPUQ-SV; [33
]). The fourth factor, related to the occurrence of financial problems, was removed due to the evolution of smartphones (i.e., smartphones being relatively cheap to use compared to when they were first introduced).
Subsequent studies—including some cross-cultural ones [33
]—have evaluated the factor structure of the PMPUQ in its long or short versions via exploratory [35
] and confirmatory [33
] approaches in different populations (e.g., young adults [33
], adults [35
]), and different European languages, especially English [33
]. However, psychometric results have been contradictory because some studies have reported adequate properties [33
], while others have not [43
]. Finally, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, no previous study has tested MI to establish the cross-validity of any of the PMPU scales (i.e., unidimensional or multidimensional) simultaneously across different languages using confirmatory approaches. This is a necessary step to move the field forward in order to establish cross-cultural MI of a scale to guarantee reliable and comparative findings across countries and languages.
The aim of the present study was to test the psychometric properties and measurement invariance of eight versions of the PMPUQ-SV. The languages selected were German, French, English, Finnish, Spanish, Italian, Polish, and Hungarian. A number of non-European countries using the same languages agreed to join the data collection in this first study. In addition to being able to perform future cross-cultural studies, there are a number of reasons for carrying out the present study to validate the PMPUQ-SV in several languages. Firstly, there is little empirical evidence regarding PMPU as a multidimensional construct, especially in adulthood. Secondly, PMPU has almost exclusively been investigated in relation to its addictive use rather than considering other potential problems (such as dangerous or prohibited use). Thirdly, the PMPUQ has been previously tested mostly using exploratory and confirmatory approaches, with no consistent results across different languages (e.g., English), but its MI across different languages remains to be investigated. Consequently, the present study investigated the multidimensional construct of PMPU across specific types of problematic mobile phone use described via the multi-group validation of the PMPUQ-SV across languages. Thus, the objectives were to (i) determine an optimal factor structure for the PMPUQ–SV among university populations using eight languages; and (ii) simultaneously examine the MI of the PMPUQ–SV across all languages in order to assess the linguistic comparability across the eight versions of the scale independently.
Therefore, the main purpose of the present study was to ascertain if the PMPUQ-SV is an appropriate psychometric tool for cross-cultural research. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to investigate the three-factor model in a multinational sample and the first to conduct MI on a multidimensional model of the PMPU across multiple linguistic scale versions. Thus, the present study will help fill an important gap in the field of PMPU and make a contribution to the research area because it comprises robust cross-cultural research examining mobile phone use and its associated problems.