Smartphone addiction linked to lower cognitive abilities, less self-control and poorer mental health
Published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Healthresearchers found that problematic smartphone use was associated with low self-esteem as well as negative cognitive outcomes.
Most people living in industrialized countries have smartphones. The fear of being without a smartphone is known as “nomophobia” and has become a social problem. Research shows that people who are addicted to smartphones are more lonely and lack self-regulation.
Furthermore, people who are addicted to smartphones are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when their smartphone use is restricted. Researchers Rosa Fabio, Alessia Stracuzzi and Riccardo Lo Faro were interested in investigating the relationship between smartphone use and deficits in behavioral and cognitive self-control.
Fabio and colleagues recruited 111 participants, aged 18 to 65. Twenty-eight percent of the participants were students, and 78% were workers. The telephone data of each participant was downloaded through the application “SocialStatsApp”, which provides information about the use of TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
The Smartphone Addiction Scale – Short Version (SAS-SV) was used to determine each participant’s smartphone addiction risk and severity. Participants also answered items from the short version of the Psychological General Well-Being Index, the Fear of Missing Out Scale, and the Procrastination Scale.
This study consisted of three phases: a pre-test phase, an experimental phase, and a post-test phase. For the pre-test phase, Fabio and colleagues assessed each participant’s baseline smartphone usage via SocialStatsApp. In the experimental phase, participants were instructed to limit smartphone use to one hour per day for three consecutive days. For the post-test phase, participants were allowed to use their smartphones as they wished for seven consecutive days.
One day before and after the experimental phase, the participants were assessed for working memory, attention, executive control, auditory reaction time, visual reaction time, motor response inhibition ability and behavioral inhibition.
The results show that participants who had a higher level of smartphone addiction had a higher percentage of non-adherence. Participants with higher levels of smartphone addiction spent more time using their phones in all three phases, even when instructed to limit smartphone use during the experimental phase.
The results also show that participants with a higher level of smartphone addiction tended to show poorer working memory, visual reaction time, auditory reaction time, motor response inhibition ability, and behavioral inhibition compared to participants with a lower level of smartphone addiction.
There were no significant differences in performance on these measures for each participant between the pretest and posttest phases. Finally, participants with higher levels of smartphone addiction scored lower on the General Psychological Well-Being Index and higher on the Fear of Missing Out Scale and the Procrastination Scale.
Fabio and colleagues argue that their findings show that people with high levels of smartphone addiction show less self-control. Poor self-regulation could have negative consequences on people’s daily lives, such as deficits in cognitive tasks and slower reaction times. The researchers further say that people with lower levels of smartphone addiction have better perceptions of their overall well-being and quality of life, given that these participants showed less procrastination and less fear of disconnection.
A limitation of this study is that some of the original participants left the study when they learned that they would have to limit their smartphone use to one hour per day for three consecutive days, so data from people with possibly very high levels of smartphone addiction are missing. Fabio and colleagues recommend that future research should investigate individuals with high levels of smartphone addiction and their withdrawal effects.
The study is titled: “Problematic smartphone use leads to behavioral and cognitive self-control disorders“.