BOCHUM, Germany — Smartphone addiction was a common problem long before 2020, but a new study finds constantly scrolling through your mobile device is actually making the pandemic feel worse for many. Researchers in Germany found that too much smartphone use during COVID-19 leads to poor self-control, increased fear of missing out (FOMO), and repeatedly dwelling on negative news.
Over the last two years, the study finds cell phone use has skyrocketed as the world deals with the ongoing changes in their daily lives. Study authors are hopeful their work can help produce new strategies for reducing smartphone overuse.
“Problematic smartphone use is fostered by the interaction of loss of control, fear of missing out and repetitive negative thinking,” study author Julia Brailovskaia of Ruhr-Universität Bochum says in a media release.
Smartphone addiction makes these problems worse
Researchers put together an online survey encompassing 516 adult smartphone users. The poll, conducted between April and May 2021, asked people about their typical smartphone habits, as well as questions on self-control, FOMO, and how often they think negatively.
Results show that all three factors show a direct connection with greater severity of problematic smartphone use. While the observational study cannot pinpoint an exact cause for this, researchers add that the data suggests all four factors may play off each other to create a larger problem for mobile phone users.
For example, FOMO can play directly into a person’s low sense of self-control, leading to problematic smartphone use. Moreover, a tendency toward repetitive thinking appears to have a strong relationship with FOMO and excessive smartphone use.
Putting down the phone, getting back in control
Most of the survey’s participants were young women, so scientists would like to see more research on this topic involving a larger and more diverse population. They add that since the survey took place during the pandemic, it’s possible that many participants’ “sense of control” scores are lower than they would be normally. Despite these minor drawbacks, study authors conclude the findings generally support their hypothesis that loss of control contributes to problematic smartphone use.
So, how can people avoid all this digital negativity? The team recommends that smartphone users pick up more physically engaging activities like exercise and mental health techniques such as mindfulness training.
The study is published in the journal PLoS ONE.