Internet Poses No Threat to Mental Health, Major Study Finds
It might seem that surfing the web could cause a person's mental health to suffer, but a landmark new study has concluded that internet use poses no major threat to people's psychological well-being.
Researchers compared country-level internet and broadband use to the mental well-being of millions of people in dozens of countries, and came away with no evidence that the internet is causing widespread psychological harm.
“We looked very hard for a 'smoking gun' linking technology and well-being and we didn't find it,” said senior researcher Andrew Przybylski, a professor of human behavior and technology at the Oxford Internet Institute in the U.K.
The team also looked more closely at specific age groups as well as gender and, again, came up empty-handed -- refuting concerns that internet use might be harming the psychological health of younger people and women.
“We meticulously tested whether there is anything special in terms of age or gender, but there is no evidence to support popular ideas that certain groups are more at risk,” Przybylski noted in an Oxford news release.
In fact, average life satisfaction has increased more for females over the past two decades, researchers found.
For the study, researchers compared data from two different reports on well-being and mental health against the amount of internet and smartphone use.
They examined data on the mental health of 2 million people ages 15 to 89 in 168 countries from 2005 to 2022, and found little to no psychological impact from increasing internet use.
They also used data on anxiety, depression and self-harm gathered between 2000 and 2019 by about 200 member states of the World Health Organization, and compared that to internet use in those countries.
Despite their findings, the researchers insist that technology companies need to provide more data so that the impacts of internet use can be better understood.
“Research on the effects of internet technologies is stalled because the data most urgently needed are collected and held behind closed doors by technology companies and online platforms,” the researchers noted in their report, which was published Nov. 28 in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.
“It is crucial to study, in more detail and with more transparency from all stakeholders, data on individual adoption of and engagement with internet-based technologies,” the researchers added. “These data exist and are continuously analyzed by global technology firms for marketing and product improvement, but unfortunately are not accessible for independent research.”
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has more on healthy social media use.
SOURCE: University of Oxford, news release, Nov. 27, 2023
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