Time spent using digital devices like smartphones has increased exponentially since the start of the pandemic, negatively affecting the physical and mental health of those who engage in “excessive” use, new research has found.
A study by researchers in Germany published Wednesday in the open-access journal PLOS ONE identified links between “problematic” smartphone use in the spring of 2021 and a lowered sense of control, repetitive negative thinking and “fear of missing out,” or FOMO.
In an online survey, more than 500 smartphone users 18 years and older in Germany self-reported their smartphone use, sense of control, negative thinking and FOMO from April to May.
A statistical analysis of the survey results found that all three factors worsened with “greater severity of problematic smartphone use.”
While the authors cautioned that their findings do not necessarily prove causation, their conclusions still point to possible interactions between several factors.
According to the study’s authors, FOMO may be a “key mechanism” in lowering an individual’s sense of control, which could lead to excessive smartphone use. More frequent negative thinking was also linked to a higher degree of FOMO, and therefore problematic smartphone use.
The study suggests physical activity and mindfulness practices can be used to lower time spent on smartphones, ultimately improving overall health.
Authors added that the study should be replicated with a more age- and gender-balanced sample, since their sample was composed mostly of females and younger adults. Other studies should also poll individuals from different countries, the authors said, to ensure the results are generalizable.
It should also be noted that, since the study was conducted during a pandemic, when the mental health of many is already in flux and few feel a total sense of control over their lives, a larger number of people are turning to their smartphones as “dysfunctional coping strategy,” the study’s authors wrote.
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