A new study is suggesting that college students who can’t keep their hands off their mobile devices, “high-frequency cellphone users”, report higher levels of anxiety, less satisfaction with life and lower grades than peers who use their cellphones less frequently. The researchers also found that the results may apply to people of all ages who have grown accustomed to using cellphones regularly, day and night. “People need to make a conscious decision to unplug from the constant barrage of electronic media and pursue something else,” said Jacob Barkley, a study co-author and associate professor at Kent State University. “There could be a substantial anxiety benefit.”
For this study, researchers surveyed around 500 male and female students at Kent State University. The researchers captured cellphone and texting use, and used established questionnaires about anxiety and life satisfaction, or happiness. Questions examining cellphone use asked the students to estimate the total amount of time they spent using their mobile phone each day, including calling, texting, using Facebook, sending photos, checking email, gaming, surfing the internet, watching videos and tapping all other uses driven by apps and software.
On average, students reported spending 279 minutes, which is almost five hours, a day using their cellphones and sending 77 text messages a day. The researchers said that this is the first study to link cellphone use with a validated measure of anxiety with a wide range of cellphone users. Within this sample of college students, as cellphone use increased, so did anxiety. The study authors noted that the data they collected in previous studies, suggest that some cellphone users may experience anxiety as a result of a perceived obligation to remain constantly connected to various social networks through their phones. “We need to try to understand what is behind this increase in student anxiety,” said Andrew Lepp, lead study author and an associate professor at Kent State University. “At least for some students, the sense of obligation that comes from being constantly connected may be part of the problem. Some may not know how to be alone to process the day’s events, to recover from certain stressors.”
While the researchers did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship, Barkley said that it is possible that those who are more anxious may use or check their cellphones more frequently. “And without a doubt, the more people use their cellphones, the less time they have to engage in other stress reducers, such as getting exercise, being alone and having time to think, talking with a friend face to face, and engaging in other activities they truly enjoy”, Barkley said. To help change this, study author Lepp says that “students need to shut off their phones, ignore text messages and try to insulate themselves from some of the extraneous distractions that reduce the quality of their work,” he advised. “And learn how to be alone with yourself.”