In a new study, researchers found young people who are hooked on their smartphones may be at an increased risk for depression and loneliness.
They found that smartphone dependency directly predicts later depressive symptoms.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of Arizona.
A growing body of research has identified a link between smartphone dependency and symptoms of depression and loneliness.
However, it’s been unclear whether reliance on smartphones precedes those symptoms, or whether the reverse is true: that depressed or lonely people are more likely to become dependent on their phones.
In a study of 346 young people, ages 18-20, the team focused on smartphone dependency—a person’s psychological reliance on the device—rather than on general smartphone use, which can actually provide benefits.
The researchers measured smartphone dependency by asking study participants to use a four-point scale to rate a series of statements, such as “I panic when I cannot use my smartphone.”
Participants also answered questions designed to measure loneliness, depressive symptoms, and their daily smartphone use.
They responded to the questions at the start of the study and again three to four months later.
The research found that smartphone dependency predicts higher reports of depressive symptoms and loneliness, rather than the other way around.
They suggest that there’s an issue where people are entirely too reliant on the device, in terms of feeling anxious if they don’t have it accessible, and they’re using it to the detriment of their day-to-day life.
Understanding the direction of the relationship between smartphone dependency and poor psychological outcomes is critical for knowing how best to address the problem.
If depression and loneliness lead to smartphone dependency, doctors could reduce dependency by adjusting people’s mental health.
But if smartphone dependency (precedes depression and loneliness), it is possible to reduce smartphone dependency to maintain or improve wellbeing.
The lead author of the study is researcher Matthew Lapierre.
The study is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
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