Smartphone zombies! Pedestrians’ distracted walking as a function of their fear of missing out (2019)

Journal of Environmental Psychology

Available online 12 April 2019


  • The motives for smartphone use while walking are not well understood.
  • We explore the Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) as a potential reason for this behavior.
  • FoMO predicts distracted walking regardless of participants’ age or gender.
  • It further predicts pedestrians’ virtual social interactions and dangerous incidents.


Smartphone use while walking (i.e., being a smartphone zombie) has become a prevalent phenomenon in many ciies worldwide. Previous research shows that many pedestrians choose to interact with their phones as they walk around in cities, despite being aware that their behavior might be dangerous. To investigate potential reasons for the prevalence of distracted walking, the current study explores the construct Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) as a potential antecedent of pedestrians’ smartphone use while walking. Hierarchical OLS and logistic regression analyses show that FoMO predicts distracted walking, the tendency to engage in virtual social interactions while walking, and dangerous traffic incidents—irrespective of participants’ age and gender. Virtual communication might serve as a compensation for real-world company, thus sidelining the need to traverse safely.