Time spent on smartphones 'isn't bad for mental health', study says


Spending time on your smartphone scrolling through social media and replying to messages isn’t bad for mental health, psychologists say. 

Analysing both Android and iPhone users, the British researchers found time spent on a smartphone to be a poor predictor of anxiety, depression or stress.

People who scored highly on depressive symptoms, meanwhile, were not found to use their smartphone any more than those with low depressive symptoms. 

Worrying about how much time you spend on your smartphone – rather than actual time spent on it – is more likely to be the cause of any negative psychological impact, the experts say. 

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General smartphone usage is a poor predictor of anxiety, depression or stress say researchers from the University of Lincoln and the University of Bath

General smartphone usage is a poor predictor of anxiety, depression or stress say researchers from the University of Lincoln and the University of Bath 

‘It is important to consider actual device use separately from people’s concerns and worries about technology,’ said study author Heather Shaw of Lancaster University’s Department of Psychology.

‘This is because the former doesn’t show noteworthy relationships with mental health, whereby the latter does.’ 

For their study, the researchers considered different ways of measuring ‘smartphone use’ through problematic smartphone use (PSU) scales, subjective estimates and objective logs based on screen time. 

The first part of the study recruited 46 people who owned Android smartphones, who had their usage was tracked for one week.  

Participants were also asked about their mental health, completing clinical scales that measure anxiety, stress and depression symptoms.  

Participants also filled in a problematic smartphone use (PSU) scale, which measured how problematic they perceived their smartphone use to be and provided estimates of their usage time.

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For the PSU, participants rated the extent to which they agreed to several statements, such as ‘feeling pleasant or excited while using a smartphone’ on a six-point-scale ranging from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’, with higher scores indicating greater addiction risk.  

Researchers measured the time spent on smartphones by 199 iPhone users and 46 Android users for one week

Researchers measured the time spent on smartphones by 199 iPhone users and 46 Android users for one week 

For the second part of the study, 199 iPhone users were recruited, who completed an online survey asking them to report their smartphone usage from the ‘Apple Screen Time’ settings for the past week. 

iPhone users were asked the same mental health questions as part one, completed the PSU scale and provided estimates of their usage.                  

Despite the plethora of reports to the contrary, the amount of time spent on the smartphone was not related to poor mental health.

‘A person’s daily smartphone pickups or screen time did not predict anxiety, depression, or stress symptoms,’ said Shaw.

‘Additionally, those who exceeded clinical “cut off points” for both general anxiety and major depressive disorder did not use their phone more than those who scored below this threshold.’    

Previous studies have uncovered the detrimental impact of ‘screen time’.

For example, a 2018 study by American psychologist Jean Twenge and fellow researchers linked increased smartphone screen time to lower psychological well-being.

This new study shows that people’s attitudes or worries are likely to drive such findings and damage psychological well-being.

This is an important distinction to consider for experts who publicly stress the need to spend time away from their phone – especially during the current pandemic, the experts suggest.

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In fact, reducing general screen time ‘will not make people happier’ during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is forcing more people to use phones and devices to stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues. 

‘Our results add to a growing body of research that suggests reducing general screen time will not make people happier,’ said study author Dr David Ellis from the University of Bath.

‘Instead of pushing the benefits of digital detox, our research suggests people would benefit from measures to address the worries and fears that have grown up around time spent using phones.’           

The study has been published in Technology, Mind, and Behavior.

Social media is NOT causing teen depression, another study claims

 A 2019 study also found no evidence to back up claims that social media is causing teen depression.

The study was carried out by researchers in Canada who gathered data from teens and young children in Ontario.

597 students aged 11-14 were surveyed once a year for two years starting from 2017. 1,132 graduates were surveyed annually for six years starting from 2010.

Researchers compared the data, factoring in demographics, in-person contact, depressive symptoms and social media use.

Factoring in all these pieces of information allowed the researchers to conclude that there is no link between depression and social media.

The study did find that teen girls who experience depressive symptoms tend to use more social media across time.

The results showed that using social media did not directly lead to depression-like symptoms for either age group.

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‘This finding contrasts with the idea that people who use a lot of social media become more depressed over time.

‘Instead, adolescent girls who are feeling down may turn to social media to try and make themselves feel better,’ said lead author Taylor Heffer of Brock University in Ontario, Canada.  



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