Spending time on your smartphone browsing social media and replying to messages isn’t bad for your mental health, according to psychologists.
By analyzing both Android and iPhone users, British researchers found that time spent on a smartphone was a poor predictor of anxiety, depression, or stress.
Meanwhile, people who scored high on depressive symptoms did not use their smartphones any more than those who had low depressive symptoms.
Worrying about the time you spend on your smartphone – rather than the actual time spent on it – is more likely to be the cause of negative psychological impact, experts say.
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General use of smartphones is a poor predictor of anxiety, depression or stress, researchers from the University of Lincoln and the University of Bath say
“It’s important to look at the actual use of the device separately from people’s concerns and concerns about the technology,” said study author Heather Shaw of the Department of Psychology at Lancaster University.
“This is because the former does not show any noticeable relationship to mental health, while the latter does.”
For their study, the researchers considered different ways to measure “smartphone usage” via scales of problematic smartphone usage (PSU), subjective estimates, and objective logs based on screen time.
The first part of the study recruited 46 people with Android smartphones, the use of which was monitored for a week.
Participants were also asked about their mental health, completing clinical scales that measure symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression.
Participants also completed a Problematic Smartphone Use Scale (PSU), which measured how well they perceived problematic use of their smartphone and provided estimates of their usage time.
For the PSU, participants rated how well they agreed with 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 a greater risk of addiction.
Researchers measured the time spent on smartphones by 199 iPhone users and 46 Android users for a week
For the second part of the study, 199 iPhone users were recruited, who responded to an online survey asking them to report their smartphone use from “Apple Screen Time” settings for the past week.
IPhone users asked the same mental health questions as in Part 1, completed the PSU scale, and provided estimates of their usage.
Despite the plethora of reports to the contrary, time spent on the smartphone was not linked to poor mental health.
“Time spent in front of a smartphone or time spent in front of a screen does not predict symptoms of anxiety, depression or stress,” said Shaw.
“Additionally, those who exceeded clinical ‘cutoffs’ for general anxiety and major depressive disorder did not use their phones any more than those who scored below that cutoff.”
Previous studies have shown the negative impact of “screen time”.
For example, a 2018 study by the American psychologist Jean Twenge and other researchers have linked the increase in smartphone screen time to a decrease in psychological well-being.
This new study shows that people’s attitudes or worries are likely to lead to such conclusions and affect psychological well-being.
This is an important distinction to consider for experts who publicly stress the need to spend time away from their phones – especially during the current pandemic, experts suggest.
In fact, reducing overall screen time ‘won’t make people happier’ during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is forcing more and more people to use phones and devices to stay in touch with their friends, their family and colleagues.
“Our findings add to a growing body of research which suggests that reducing screen time will not make people happier,” said study author Dr. David Ellis of the University. of Bath.
“Instead of pushing the benefits of digital detox, our research suggests that people would benefit from measures to address the concerns and fears that have developed around time spent using phones.”
The study was published in Technology, mind and behavior.
Social media does NOT cause depression in teens, another study finds
A 2019 study also found no evidence to support claims that social media is the root cause of depression in adolescents.
The study was carried out by Canadian researchers who collected data from adolescents and young children in Ontario.
597 students aged 11-14 were surveyed once a year for two years starting in 2017. 1,132 graduates were surveyed each year for six years starting in 2010.
The researchers compared the data, taking into account demographics, in-person contact, depressive symptoms, and social media use.
Taking all of this information into account allowed the researchers to conclude that there is no link between depression and social media.
The study found that teenage girls with depressive symptoms tend to use social media more over time.
The results showed that the use of social media did not directly lead to depression-like symptoms for either age group.
“This finding contrasts with the idea that people who use social media a lot become more depressed over time.
“Instead, teenage girls who are feeling down can take to social media to try and feel better,” said senior author Taylor Heffer of Brock University in Ontario, Canada.