Studies into smartphone addiction found to be ‘flawed’
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Lancaster University researchers have found that many studies into smartphone addiction are often based on flawed evidence.
Surveys are often used to understand how people use their smartphone, but these results typically don’t tally with actual smartphone use when measured with an app.
The researchers say that considering this, previous studies should not be used to influence policy decisions.
They examined 10 surveys for measuring people’s technology use and compared them with data from Apple Screen Time, which measures how many minutes people use their phone, how often they pick it up and how many notifications they receive.
Dr David Ellis, of Lancaster University, said there was a “gulf” between the data.
“Many studies that try to understand the impact technologies, especially social media and smartphones, have on behaviour don’t accurately measure usage,” he said.
“If people want to make claims about how technology is ruining lives or to change policies, or give advice to parents, the measurements need to be as good as they can be. This study suggests that they are not as good as they can be.”
High smartphone usage has been previously linked to anxiety and depression, but Ellis said there is insufficient evidence to support these conclusions.
“Scales that focus on the notion of technology ‘addiction’ performed very poorly and were unable to classify people into different groups (e.g, high vs low use) based on their behaviour.”
The study involved 238 people with an iPhone 5 model phone or above. They completed a survey, estimating how many hours and minutes they spent on their phone each day. The group then entered this data from their Apple Screen Time app.
Using the Apple Screen Time data, researchers were able to separate the participants into two groups - low and high users.
There were 92 people who fitted into the high use category based on that data. However, when self-reported data was used, only 52 people were rated as high users.
Brittany Davidson, of the University of Bath, said: “There’s a huge discrepancy between what people think they do and what they actually do.
“People might be worried about how much they use their mobile phone, but they might not actually use it a lot.”
She said previous studies had made “grand sweeping statements”, such as that smartphones caused people to become depressed.
“It is about clear communication going forward,” Davidson said. “Having more perspective is never going to be a negative thing.”
Research from 2017 suggested that woman were more susceptible to smartphone addiction than men.
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