MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Brittany I. Davidson MA
Doctoral Researcher in Information Systems
University of Bath
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Typically, research interested in the impact of technology, or more specifically, smartphones on people and society, use surveys to measure people’s usage. Almost always, these studies claim potential harms from using smartphones, like depression, anxiety, or poorer sleep. However, these studies simply ask people about their behaviour rather than actually measuring it.
In our study, we took 10 widely used surveys to measure screen time, which typically asks how often people use their smartphone or how problematic their usage is. We compared this to people’s objective smartphone usage from Apple Screen time (e.g., minutes spend on iPhone, number of times they picked up their phone, and the number of notifications received).
We found that there is a large discrepancy between what people self-report and what they actually do with their iPhone. This is highly problematic as the sweeping statements that claim smartphones (or technology more generally) have a negative impact on mental health are not based on solid and robust evidence at this time, which leaves much to be desired in terms of what we really know about the impacts of technology use on people.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: That we should be remain curious and critical about technology and its impact on society. It is interesting to note that the few number of studies that use objective data tend to find no relationship between technology and negative outcomes (e.g., depression or anxiety), and some even find the opposite – that technology use is actually associated with positive outcomes.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Future research hoping to better understand how people use technology needs to utilise objective data. There are increasing opportunities to do this, e.g., Apple Screen Time or Android’s Digital Wellbeing. As the current measures of self-report are not measuring behaviour, and actually, this raises the question as to what they are measuring instead. Those researching technology should be open for research collaborations across disciplines – for instance, computer science, who have much to offer as to how we can utilise and harness technology to enrich our research.
Finally, we need to stop having such a binary view on technology – where it is deemed to be the answer or destroying a generation. We must remain objective towards technology research as we move forward. This also links to the way we disseminate our research, especially if there is potential to change policy. This needs to be based on high-quality and robust data and analysis.
David A. Ellis, Brittany I. Davidson, Heather Shaw, Kristoffer Geyer. Do smartphone usage scales predict behavior?International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 2019; 130: 86 DOI: 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2019.05.004
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