March 21, 2016
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Mobile device dependence may lead to poorer mental health

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Recent findings indicated an association between using mobile phones and the Internet to avoid negative and anxiety-inducing experiences and poorer mental health, though using technology to escape boredom was not harmful to mental health.

“Previous research shows that high information and communication technology (ICT) use is associated with higher levels of anxiety, depression and overall psychological distress; however, there are few relevant studies on this topic,” Tayana Panova, an undergraduate honors student, and Alejandro Lleras, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, wrote.

Alejandro Lleras, PhD

Alejandro Lleras

To assess the relationship between Internet and mobile phone use and mental health, researchers conducted two studies among 318 undergraduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign taking psychology courses.

In the first study, participants were completed questionnaires to determine their manner of mobile phone and Internet use and depression and anxiety levels.

Questionnaires included items such as “Do you think that your academic or work performance has been negatively affected by your cellphone use?” and “Do you think that life without the Internet is boring, empty and sad?”

Researchers found strong positive relationships between poorer mental health and problematic ICT use, particularly among individuals who used ICTs to avoid negative experiences or feelings.

However, no link was found between ICT use and mental health problems when participants used ICTs to avoid boredom.

The second study assessed how students utilized their mobile phones to cope or escape from feelings related to an anxiety-inducing situation.

Findings indicated that mobile phones may have a small “security blanket” effect, lowering initial negative reaction to stress, though stress patterns were the same among all participants during the study experiment.

“We shouldn't be scared of people connecting online or talking on their phones. The interaction with the device is not going to make you depressed if you are just using it when you are bored,” Lleras said in a press release. “This should go toward soothing some of that public anxiety over new technology. However, research on intensive engagement with devices is indicating their clear role in mental health, so the manner in which the two are connected merits further study.” – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.