Study links mobile device addiction to depression and anxiety

March 02, 2016

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Is cellphone use detrimental to mental health? A new study from the University of Illinois finds that high engagement with mobile technology is linked to anxiety and depression in college-age students.

The study was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

"There's a long history of the public fearing new technologies as they are deployed in society," said U. of I. psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, who conducted this study with undergraduate honors student Tayana Panova. This fear of new technology happened with televisions, video games and most recently, smartphones, he said. With the growth of mobile technology and the accompanying concern about its mental health implications, the researchers wanted to explore the connection between these information and communication technologies and psychological well-being.

Lleras and Panova surveyed over 300 university students with questionnaires that addressed the students' mental health, level and manner of cellphone and Internet use, and motivations for turning to their electronic devices. Questions included: "Do you think that your academic or work performance has been negatively affected by your cellphone use?" and "Do you think that life without the Internet is boring, empty and sad?"

"The goal of the study was to see whether high engagement with the Internet and mobile phones affects psychological well-being and, if so, the manner in which this influence occurs," Panova said. "More specifically, we wanted to explore whether using devices for emotional escapism is problematic to mental health."

"People who self-described as having really addictive-style behaviors toward the Internet and cellphones scored much higher on depression and anxiety scales," Lleras said.

Using these technologies for escapism was found to have a relationship with higher depression and anxiety scores. However, the researchers found no relationship between cellphone or Internet use and negative mental health outcomes among participants who used these technologies to avoid being bored. Thus, the motivation for going online is an important factor in relating technology usage to depression and anxiety, Lleras said.

In a follow-up study, Lleras and Panova tested how having a mobile phone or not having one in a stressful situation affected participants' responses to the stressor. Individuals who were allowed to keep their cellphones during an experimental, stressful situation were less likely to be negatively affected by stress compared with those without their phones.

"Having access to a phone seemed to allow that group to resist or to be less sensitive to the stress manipulation," Lleras said. This benefit was both small and short-lived, but suggests the phone might serve as a comfort item in stressful or anxiety-inducing situations, he said.

"However, for the participants who did become stressed after the stressor was presented, it did not matter whether they had a mobile phone at hand or not: The stress response was the same in all conditions," Panova said. "These results together suggest that mobile technology may be utilized as a 'security blanket' in the face of stress, but may not actually be an effective stress alleviator."

With growing support for the connection between technology use and mental health, the relationship between motivation for cellphone or Internet use and well-being warrants further exploration, Lleras said. Breaking intensive technology-use habits may provide an important supplemental treatment for addressing mental health issues such as general anxiety disorder or depression, he said.

"We shouldn't be scared of people connecting online or talking on their phones. The interaction with the device is not going to make you depressed if you are just using it when you are bored," Lleras said. "This should go toward soothing some of that public anxiety over new technology. However, research on intensive engagement with devices is indicating their clear role in mental health, so the manner in which the two are connected merits further study."
-end-


Editor's notes:


To reach Alejandro Lleras, call 217-265-6709; email alleras@illinois.edu. The paper "Avoidance or boredom: Negative mental health outcomes associated with use of Information and Communication Technologies depend on users' motivations" is available from the journal or from the U. of I. News Bureau.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related Depression Articles from Brightsurf:

Children with social anxiety, maternal history of depression more likely to develop depression
Although researchers have known for decades that depression runs in families, new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York, suggests that children suffering from social anxiety may be at particular risk for depression in the future.

Depression and use of marijuana among US adults
This study examined the association of depression with cannabis use among US adults and the trends for this association from 2005 to 2016.

Maternal depression increases odds of depression in offspring, study shows
Depression in mothers during and after pregnancy increased the odds of depression in offspring during adolescence and adulthood by 70%.

Targeting depression: Researchers ID symptom-specific targets for treatment of depression
For the first time, physician-scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have identified two clusters of depressive symptoms that responded to two distinct neuroanatomical treatment targets in patients who underwent transcranial magnetic brain stimulation (TMS) for treatment of depression.

A biological mechanism for depression
Researchers report that in depressed individuals there are increased amounts of an unmodified structural protein, called tubulin, in lipid rafts compared with non-depressed individuals.

Depression in adults who are overweight or obese
In an analysis of primary care records of 519,513 UK adults who were overweight or obese between 2000-2016 and followed up until 2019, the incidence of new cases of depression was 92 per 10,000 people per year.

Why stress doesn't always cause depression
Rats susceptible to anhedonia, a core symptom of depression, possess more serotonin neurons after being exposed to chronic stress, but the effect can be reversed through amygdala activation, according to new research in JNeurosci.

Which comes first: Smartphone dependency or depression?
New research suggests a person's reliance on his or her smartphone predicts greater loneliness and depressive symptoms, as opposed to the other way around.

Depression breakthrough
Major depressive disorder -- referred to colloquially as the 'black dog' -- has been identified as a genetic cause for 20 distinct diseases, providing vital information to help detect and manage high rates of physical illnesses in people diagnosed with depression.

CPAP provides relief from depression
Researchers have found that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can improve depression symptoms in patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases.

Read More: Depression News and Depression Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.