Why Do We Communifake?

Dominique Gonzales is a chronic communifaker.

"Absolutely, I communifake," the 27-year-old told ABCNews.com. "It's a little rude if you just ignore somebody. But if I see somebody at work who I want to avoid speaking with, I'll just take out my phone and pretend to be making a call."

If that sounds unusual to you, you might be in the minority.

According to new research from British mobile operator 3, the deceit is particularly used -- or abused -- by younger people. It found that 74 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 admit to communifaking.

But it is widespread among the general population with 42 percent of women and 32 percent of men conceding they fake phone calls.

The most common reason, the study says, is that it's something to do while waiting for friends. But using the phone to avoid speaking with someone is the second most popular reason for some more merciless communifakers.

It's All About 'Impression Management'

Patricia Wallace, a psychologist at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, is an expert on information technology and psychology and said that the phenomenon can be explained, in part, by "impression management."

"If you go to a pub and you're sitting by yourself, that says something. Rather than to be thought of as a loner or not desirable as company, you use your virtual connection to look like you're more desirable and involved and actively engaged with others," she said.

In addition to demonstrating connections to others, she said, pretending to be on the phone gives people the opportunity to show off the phone: a very powerful status symbol.

In some countries, particularly developing countries, Wallace said, people even purchase fake cell phones so that they have something flashy to fondle and wield in front of others.

In wealthier countries, like the United States and United Kingdom, the iPhone and designer devices from Prada and Armani serve the same status-establishing purpose.

In fact, Wallace said, studies have shown that men, in particular, display their cell phones to win over women, much like birds preen their feathers to attract mates.

It's Just Something to Do

Tim Olmeda, a 26-year-old reporter from Corpus Christi, Texas, told ABCNews.com that he's been guilty of communifaking since he purchased his cell phone four years ago.

"Usually it's kind of limited to when I'm sitting alone or when I'm waiting for someone. It feels kind of weird to sit there and not do anything," he said.

"I don't necessarily want to talk to people; I just don't want to be looking like I'm alone," he said.

Even when he's with a group of people but not feeling comfortable, he said his fingers will mosey on over to the keypad.

Aaron Stanley, 48, an independent filmmaker in Mesa, Ariz., said he's done it to escape the clutches of pushy salespeople.

Once, he said, at a Chevrolet dealership, the car salesman was so aggressive, Stanley activated his phone in his pocket so that he'd have an excuse to steal away.

"It was just a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. He was so pushy and I just wasn't in the mood to get into a fight with him," he said. Stanley made his phone indicate a call and told the salesman his wife was calling to report an emergency at home.

'It Smacks of Fear'

But, for some people, communifaking is a peculiar phenomenon that indicates insecurity.

"I think it's bizarre. It's just rather curious. The problem with the world is that we're not comfortable with one another," W.A. Tomlinson, a 53-year-old retiree from Coos Bay, Ore., told ABCNews.com.

"It smacks of fear because it says I'm afraid. I'm afraid to stand on my own two feet," he said.

He also couldn't understand why people wouldn't play games or do something else with their phones.

However, he conceded that communifaking could be a function of the younger generation's dependence on technology and connectivity, as well as their familiarity with multitasking.

Armed with their PDAs, cell phones and portable computers, "now people are addicted to multitasking," he said. "If you're not doing something, there must be something wrong."

But other older Americans have more forgiving explanations for what they see as the behavior of a younger generation.

"I believe women who feel they may be threatened, fake a phone call to feel protected," Meredith Booker, 60, a retired firefighter in Sarasota, Fla., told ABCNews.com.

For example, he said, when he walks through parking lots populated with "seedy-looking" men, he's noticed that younger women will instantly pull their phones to their ears.

"It's more of a protection device for them," he said.

Indeed, Angela Serene, 23, from Debary, Fla., told ABCNews.com that one night at a gas station, when only one other car was there, she pretended to talk on the phone out of fear.

"The other person at the pump was a mysterious-looking older man, I'd say in his early 40s. So to avoid him talking to me, I pretended I was talking on my phone while pumping my gas," she said.

However, she said, embarrassment quickly followed fear when her phone started to ring.

"Of all the times for someone to call me, it had to be when I was faking it," she said. "The guy was looking at me like there was something wrong with me. It's funny now that I think about it, but then I felt like an idiot."

Regardless of why we do it, or whether or not we get caught, experts say it's not necessarily something to be embarrassed about.

In some situations -- for example, when women want to protect themselves -- it can be sensible. But in others, if someone is trying to primarily "look good" then it does suggest a high level of self-consciousness or lack of security in one's sense of self, Janet Schofield, a psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, told ABCNews.com.

"If it makes people feel more comfortable, there's nothing necessarily wrong with that," she said. "But the question is, why do you need to do it to feel comfortable?"