Many people have expressed concerns about the possibility of mobile phones damaging our brains, but now scientists have found that it’s not the use of the devices themselves, but our addiction to them, which may lead to anxiety and depression.
It’s not uncommon for the public to fear new technologies; it happened with the invention of televisions, video games, and now smartphones and other devices. Researchers at the University of Illinois wanted to see whether some of this fear is justified, by analysing the results of a survey undertaken by over 300 students about their use of the internet, smartphones and other electronic devices.
The questionnaires addressed such issues as the amount of time the students spent using their devices, their motivation for using them, and also included questions about their mental health. They were asked for their opinion on whether using this kind of technology had a negative impact on their academic performance and whether they felt that life without the internet was boring. By analysing the answers, the researchers hoped to see whether addictive and self-destructive behaviours with smartphones and the internet were connected to the students’ mental health.
The researchers found that the students who described themselves as being very addicted to the internet and smart devices had a much higher score on depression and anxiety scales. However, they didn’t find a relationship between the use of these technologies and negative mental health among students who mainly used them as a way to escape boredom. This led them to conclude that when relating technology usage to depression and anxiety, the motivation for going online is an important factor.
To further analyse the effects of smartphone addiction, lead author Professor Alejandro Lleras wanted to see what would happen if students were involved in a stressful situation where they were not allowed to use their smartphones. He found that the students who were allowed to keep their phone, but not use it, were less affected by stress, in comparison to the students who didn’t have their phones at all. It appeared that just having their phone with them, meant that the students were more resistant to stressful situations, suggesting that these devices have become comfort items.
Lleras believes that further research into the link between the motivation for smartphone and internet use and mental health is warranted, and suggests that finding ways to break addictive habits with these technologies may help to address general anxiety disorders and depression. However, he also pointed out that we shouldn’t be scared of technology, and certainly using technology to ease boredom is unlikely to have a detrimental effect on your mental health.
The study was published in the online journal Computers in Human Behavior on January 16th 2016.
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