Reducing Smartphone Use by an Hour per Day Improves Well-being for Months. May 4, 2022 12:00

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Is it necessary to throw away your smartphone in order to live your best life? Not necessarily, according to Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) researchers, who believe that we could all benefit from reducing our screen time — but only slightly.

According to estimates, the average adult spends about three hours per day scrolling away on their smartphone. There's always something to keep our attention between social media, news feeds, endless video games, and apps for pretty much everything else. In recent years, studies have blamed smartphones for a slew of modern ills ranging from increased anxiety to neck pain. It begs the question: Would everyone be better off going back to flip phones and landlines?

In a university release, study leader Dr. Julia Brailovskaia says, "The smartphone is both a blessing and a curse."

How does smartphone use affect smoking and exercise habits?
The authors of the study set out to answer that question by bringing together 619 participants. They divided the volunteers into three groups: 200 who were told to avoid using their smartphone entirely, 226 who reduced their daily use by just one hour, and 193 who continued to use their smartphone as usual.

Researchers also interviewed each participant one and four months after the experimental week ended to learn about their overall lifestyle habits and well-being. More specifically, researchers looked at how frequently people exercised, how many cigarettes they smoked on a daily basis, how satisfied they were with their lives, and whether they were depressed or anxious.

"We discovered that both completely abandoning the smartphone and reducing its daily use by one hour had positive effects on the participants' lifestyle and well-being," Dr. Brailovskaia explains. "These effects lasted even longer and were thus more stable in the group that reduced use than in the group that abstained."

Notably, changing their smartphone habits for just one week appeared to have long-term effects on subjects. Even four months later, participants assigned to the abstinence group were using their phones for 38 minutes less per day on average.

Meanwhile, after four months, the "one hour less" group was using their phones up to 45 minutes less per day. This group also reported higher levels of life satisfaction, more exercise, and lower levels of depression, anxiety, and nicotine use.

"It's not necessary to give up your smartphone entirely to feel better," Dr. Brailovskaia concludes. "Perhaps there is an optimal daily usage time."

The findings have been published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology Applied.