General smartphone use is a poor predictor of anxiety, depression or stress, say the researchers, who recommend caution when it comes to digital detoxification.
The study published in Technology, mind and behavior It was led by Heather Shaw and Kristoffer Geyer from Lancaster University with colleagues from Bath and Lincoln Universities.
They measured the time spent on smartphones by 199 iPhone users and 46 Android users for one week. Participants were also asked about their physical and mental health, completing clinical scales that measure symptoms of anxiety and depression. They also completed a scale that measured how problematic they perceived their smartphone use to be.
Surprisingly, the amount of time spent on the smartphone was not related to poor mental health.
Lead author Heather Shaw, from the Lancaster University Department of Psychology, said: “A person’s daily smartphone use or screen time did not predict symptoms of anxiety, depression or stress. Furthermore, those who exceeded the clinical ‘cut-off points’ for both general anxiety and major depressive disorder did not use their phone any more than those who scored below this threshold. “
Instead, the study found that mental health was associated with participants’ concerns and concerns about using their own smartphone.
This was measured through their scores on a problem use scale in which they were asked to rate statements such as “Using my smartphone longer than I planned “and “Having tried over and over again to shorten my smartphone usage time, but failing every time.”
Heather Shaw said: “It is important to consider the actual use of the device separately from people’s concerns and concerns about the technology. This is because the former does not show noteworthy relationships with mental health, while the latter does. “
Previous studies have focused on the potentially damaging impact of ‘screen time’, but the study shows that people’s attitudes or concerns are likely to drive these findings.
Dr. David Ellis, from the School of Management at the University of Bath, explained in a statement: “Mobile technologies have become even more essential for work and everyday life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our results add to a growing body of research suggesting that reducing overall screen time will not make people happier.
“Rather than drive the benefits of digital detoxification, our research suggests that people would benefit from measures to address concerns and fears that have arisen around time spent using phones.”
Source: Lancaster University