Are you addicted to your phone? There’s a new tool that can tell

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — Are you addicted to your phone? Is there even a way to tell? Thanks to researchers from Binghamton University, there’s now a way to identify digital dependence. They have unveiled a pioneering tool aimed at measuring digital media addiction amidst the ever-evolving landscape of mobile technology.

The tool, named the Digital Media Overuse Scale (dMOS), offers a solution for clinicians and researchers grappling with the challenge of tracking addiction patterns in an environment where popular digital platforms can swiftly shift.

“We wanted to create a tool that was immediately useful in the clinic and lab, that reflects current understandings about how digital addiction works, that wouldn’t go obsolete once the next big tech change hits,” says study co-author Dr. Daniel Hipp, who graduated with his PhD from Binghamton University’s Infant and Child Studies lab in 2015, in a university release.

Developed in collaboration with the Digital Media Treatment and Education Center in Boulder, Colorado, the dMOS addresses the limitations of existing measurement tools by focusing on psychological aspects rather than specific technologies. According to Dr. Hipp, the scale utilizes fundamental questions centered on psychology, such as struggling to control one’s usage despite knowing it should be limited, applicable across various tech domains like social media or gaming.

“Rather than focusing on the tech, we built into the scale a set of ‘skeletal’ questions that focus on psychology,” explains Dr. Hipp, now a research consultant at the Digital Media Treatment and Education Center. “For example, one question type is ‘I have trouble stopping myself from using X even when I know I should.’ Replacing X with a tech domain, such as social media or gaming, we can ask the same question about several different tech domains. And we can replace X in future studies with new technology domains (i.e. TikTok-style ‘shorts’) as they emerge.”

People staring at phone screens at dinner
(© ikostudio – stock.adobe.com)

The effectiveness of the dMOS was assessed through an anonymous survey involving over 1,000 college students. Findings revealed that while a majority showed few signs of addiction or overuse, specific patterns emerged among users, highlighting varied behaviors and attitudes towards digital media.

Researchers highlighted that overuse tendencies weren’t uniform across all digital domains.

“Overall, the outcome reveals that overuse is not a general thing; respondents typically reported overuse in one or a few domains only, such as social media,” says Peter Gerhardstein, a professor of psychology at Binghamton University. “More broadly, the data paint a picture of a population using digital media substantially, and social media in particular, to a level that increases concern regarding overuse issues.”

The initial study suggests that the Digital Media Overuse Scale offers reliable and valid clinical measurements within different digital media domains. Ongoing research aims to expand the scale’s applicability to new technology domains, reflecting the evolving digital landscape and its impact on human psychology.

The study is published in the journal Technology Mind and Behavior.

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