BU professor finds calling in cell phone addiction research

Cellphone story FTW2By Sierra Baumbach

Staff Writer

Smartphone users and compulsive shoppers might be more similar than once thought.

Dr. James Roberts, professor of marketing and the W.A. Mays professor of entrepreneurship, recently published a study that compared cell phone addiction to compulsive buying.

The study explored the idea that cell phone use is similar to being a “shopaholic,” the need for a cell phone fueled by materialism and the appearance of wealth that materials can suggest.

The study, which has been published in numerous journals and featured on shows such as the O’Reilly Factor and websites like the Daily Mail, is only one of more than 75 studies addressing sales and compulsive consumerism that Roberts has published throughout his career.

“When I first arrived at Baylor I did a lot of research in the area of personal selling and it wasn’t really my passion,” Roberts said. “Then I was driven to the question of what drives compulsive buying, and so that started it off and since about 15 years ago I have started studying issues related to consumer behavior.”

Roberts, who is a Minnesota native, earned his doctorate of Business from Nebraska State University in 1991 and began teaching at Baylor the same year.

“I interviewed with a bunch of schools and Baylor was one of them,” Roberts said. “Some of the people who interviewed me were some of the leading researchers in the field and I thought, ‘What a great place to start,’ and it just turned out to be a real good match.”

In 1992, Roberts published his first paper, “Diagnosing Consumer Information Problems: An Investigation of Deception in the Mail-Order Video Camcorder Market.”

“I’ve been pretty successful in that everything I have written has been published at some level,” Roberts said. “There are good journals, medium journals, and of course not so good journals.”

Out of his 75 published articles, two of them have been named “Paper of the Year” within their respective journals.

“When you publish your article in a paper, it goes through an editorial board that is built of people who have agreed to sort through and decide which papers to publish,” Roberts said of the process for how the paper of the year is chosen. “Paper of the year is just an honor that says not only are you published but you were the best paper out of that given year’s journals.”

Partnering with others in the field of consumer science, Roberts has done few papers on his own, choosing to build both professional and personal relationships with others through his studies.

“Jim and I met years ago at a conference and we just hit it off,” Dr. Steve Pirog, co-author of “A preliminary investigation of materialism and impulsiveness as predictors of technological addictions among young adults,” and associate professor and chair of department of marketing at Seton Hall University, said. “He’s fun to work with and we always started off with a few laughs and talked about the important things before getting down to business. His human approach and his discipline, while still old school, focuses on how marketing affects us socially and his research is simply cutting edge. He’s like the Van Gogh in the area of research.”

Roberts also released a book in November 2011, “Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy,” which was featured on The CBS Early Show, America’s Morning News and numerous other media outlets.

“The book is about 15 years worth of research where I studied compulsive buying, materialism and credit card abuse,” Roberts said. “It talks about how our love of money impacts our life and all those things we do that has a negative effect on us.”

Continuing with his research on cell phones and the effect it has on everyday life, Roberts is currently working on a study that will narrow down the activities that may cause addiction to mobile devices.