A new study published in Clinical Psychological Science provides insight into the relationship between mood and smartphone use in college students. The research found no relationship between how often someone used their smartphone and their mood. In other words, a tough week did not mean significantly more smartphone use.
However, the research team did find a relationship between those who used their smartphone the most and lower scores on measures of well-being. But the overall findings dispute the idea that smartphone use is a coping mechanism when life becomes stressful.
The relationship between digital devices and mental health has become a legitimate worry in the past few years. Past research is a mixed bag of inconclusive and contradictory results. Much of the past work has utilized cross-sectional methods design methods, precluding the chance to test the long-term effects of digital technology on well-being.
Additionally, few studies have tried to separate the consequences of different types of use. Much of the research has been based on self-reported screen time, which is often unreliable.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, much attention has been given to screen time as a potential contributing factor to heightened stress levels. Research on the topic indicated that screen time was connected to poor psychological well-being; however, the relationship was not uniform across different app categories. The results suggest that further investigations are essential to comprehend how specific kinds of screen use are related to mental health results.
Researchers Abigail Bradley and Andrea Howard sought to investigate the correlation between smartphone utilization and well-being among undergraduate students during the Fall of 2020. To do this, they used 12 weeks’ worth of data from a weekly report of stress and emotions and screenshots of iPhone Screen Time reports from the participants.
The researchers found that the students were on their phones for around seven hours every day throughout the semester. They did not observe any definite association between smartphone use, stress levels, or COVID-19-related cancellations. However, those who habitually used their phones more often were less happy, less calm, and more irritated or stressed. Conversely, those who tended to grab their phones more often for brief moments of interaction were happier and more relaxed, no matter which apps they accessed.
The results further indicated a slight positive correlation between stress and the hours spent on entertainment and gaming applications. In addition, it was observed that those who used these types of apps in excess were more likely to experience higher levels of irritation.
Conversely, there was no evidence of a connection between stress and the time spent on social media during weeks when students often utilized such an app. This contradicts media reports and most of the pre-pandemic screen time literature, which suggested that extended social media usage can adversely impact mental health.
When examining the connection between using smartphones and people’s emotions at the end of the week, they found that the results depended on the individual and not the time. No meaningful correlation existed between how much time was spent looking at an iPhone and depression or anxiety. The study implies that the well-being of students is likely not affected by how much their phone use changes from week to week but more by how much they tend to use their phones.
The study emphasizes the value of exploring the relationship between using a smartphone and well-being with more detail, including what apps are used and the individual’s habits.
The research team acknowledged a few limitations; first, the sample was a predominantly female and Caucasian group of iPhone users gathered through the internet, with moderate retention from one week to the next. Second, it would be valuable to include both iPhone and Android users in the future. Finally, the research did not reveal any data that associated the use of social media with higher stress levels or diminished spirits. However, the study was not able to supply details on the reasons why people utilize smartphones or how young people interact with their phones in either a positive or negative way.
The research concludes with the assumption that it is necessary to comprehend how young people interact with their surroundings during smartphone use to make the most of the digital environment to promote their health and well-being.
The study, “Stress and mood associations with smartphone use in university students: A 12-week longitudinal study“, was authored by Abigail H. M. Bradley and Andrea L. Howard.