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Video: All that smartphone use does not impact your mental health

02 December 2020

A new study from Lancaster University has shown that the amount of time spent on a smartphone does not relate to poor mental health.

Researchers measured time spent on smartphones by 199 iPhone users and 46 Android users for one week. Then the participants were asked about their mental and physical health, completing clinical scales that measure anxiety and depression symptoms. The results found that time spent on a smartphone does not equate to any indication of anxiety, depression or stress.

"A person's daily smartphone pickups or screen time did not predict anxiety, depression, or stress symptoms,” said Heather Shaw, professor in Lancaster University’s department of psychology. “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."

In fact, the concerns and worries were only felt by participants about their own smartphone usage, not the usage itself.

Researchers measured the scores on a problematic usage scale and were asked to rate statements 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."

"It is important to consider actual device use separately from people's concerns and worries about technology,” Shaw said. “This is because the former doesn't show noteworthy relationships with mental health, whereby the latter does."

While other studies focused on the detriments of screen time, this study found people’s attitudes or worries are more likely to drive concern rather than the act itself.

"Mobile technologies have become even more essential for work and day-to-day life during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. David Ellis from the University of Bath's School of Management. “Our results add to a growing body of research that suggests reducing general screen time will 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."

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