Excess Cellphone Use May Mean Anxiety, Depression
Some college students use their mobile device as a 'security blanket,' study says
By Alan Mozes
TUESDAY, March 15, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Some young adults who constantly reach for their smartphones might be anxious or depressed, preliminary research suggests.
A study of more than 300 college students found heavier technology use was tied to greater risk for anxiety and depression, particularly among those using the devices as a "security blanket" -- to avoid dealing with unpleasant experiences or feelings.
Risk was not elevated, however, among young people who used smartphones simply to "escape boredom" or for entertainment, said the researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Nor were the devices themselves found to causemental health problems.
"Handheld devices, with their countless applications and entertainment options and their constant presence at our fingertips, make it easier than ever before to disconnect with the problems [and] stresses of reality, and avoid actively engaging with them," noted study co-author Tayana Panova.
"But over time," she said, "turning to the device whenever an uncomfortable situation or feeling arises can become an escapist pattern of behavior, and may make people more vulnerable to stressors due to insufficient emotional 'exercise.'"
For now, however, "the causation of the effect is unknown," said Panova, who conducted the study for her undergraduate honors thesis.
"It may be that individuals with higher anxiety/depression use [phone] devices more intensively," she said, "or that using devices more intensively can eventually lead to the development of anxiety/depression. Or it can mean that there is a cyclical relationship."
The findings will be published in the May issue of Computers in Human Behavior.
Nearly 5 billion people use mobile phones worldwide, while the Internet is accessed by 3 billion users, the researchers said in background notes.
To explore how smartphone habits relate to mental health, the authors conducted a two-part study. First, they evaluated responses to a questionnaire about technology use and emotions, which was completed by 318 undergraduates.
Then, to examine cellphone use in a stressful situation, the team asked 72 students to spend five minutes writing about a personal flaw or weakness that made them uncomfortable. The anxiety-provoking writings were collected, under the false premise that they would be reviewed as part of a 10-minute psychology training exercise.