The smartphone is the favourite whipping boy of the 21st century. Bad posture? Blame it on the phone. Blurry eyesight? Blame it on the phone. But depression? Anxiety? Stress?… Maybe it’s not the phone. A new study says that we are probably overreacting about prolonged smartphone use and mental health.
I have six new favourite people in the world: Heather Shaw and Kristoffer Geyer from Lancaster University; Dr David Ellis and Dr Brittany Davidson from the University of Bath; and Dr Fenja Ziegler and Alice Smith from the University of Lincoln. They led a study, published in Technology, Mind, and Behavior, which says that general smartphone use is not a good predictor for anxiety depression or stress. The enterprising bunch and their tireless work have absolved me from screen time shame.
The group studied 199 iPhone users and 46 Android users for a week, analysing the time they spent on their smartphones. The researchers also quizzed them about their mental and physical health. The participants also answered queries about how problematic they thought their smartphone usage was.
Lo and behold. They found no connection between poor mental health and the time one spends on the phone. That’s enough to put a smile on our faces. But there’s more.
Lead author Shaw said that daily screen time did not predict symptoms of anxiety, depression or stress.
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.
That’s fancy speak for people who had symptoms of general anxiety and major depressive disorder didn’t use their phone any more than people who didn’t exhibit those signs.
Not phone but guilt is the culprit
The researchers were able to uncover something more surprising. The users’ own anxieties about their smartphone usage were triggering the mental health issues in the first place. Not screen time.
Hence, it is not surprising to find questions such as; Using my smartphone longer than I had intended and Having tried time and again to shorten my smartphone use time but failing all the time in problematic use scales.
Shaw also said that actual device use should be studied separately from people’s concerns about excessive screen time. ” This is because the former doesn’t show noteworthy relationships with mental health, whereby the latter does,” she said.
To sum it up, the study says that screen time itself is not a cause for worry; it’s the people’s own fears about spending more time on the smartphone that’s affecting their mental health.
Dr Ellis added that reducing screen time and going on digital detoxes may not make people happier.
“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.”