Addiction to mobile phones is thought to be at an all-time high, according to multiple studies and surveys. Over half of teens sit for long periods of time in silence on their smartphones while hanging out with friends, and one-third of teens spend more time socializing with close friends online as opposed to in person.
In the 18- to 29-year-old age range, 22 percent of survey respondents reported checking their device every few minutes. Adults spend an estimated 45 minutes a day on social media, and 96 percent of Americans owned a cell phone as of June 2019.
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While these devices have become indispensable for communication and productivity, what have been the negative impacts on society? Research studies have shown excessive use of mobile devices is associated with mental health issues, cyberbullying, and poor sleep.
Prevalence of addiction
Several physical and psychological issues have been tied to cell-phone addiction, including muscle pain, blurry vision, eye irritation and redness, auditory and tactile illusions, the “sensation of having heard a ring or felt a vibration of a cell phone,” and pain or weakness in the thumbs and wrists from overuse, according to a 2016 review article.
Problematic changes in behavior have also been noted, including loss of interest in other activities, constant cell phone use in dangerous situations or prohibited contexts, preference of cell phone use to personal contact, and sleep disturbances.
Users have also reported anxiety and loneliness “when unable to send a message or receive an immediate response.”
In one 2006 study, “22.1% of adolescents and 27.9% of young people were considered to be cell-phone addicts, although only 5.35% and 5.26% of them exhibited dangerous or harmful behaviors.”
Geographic and intercultural differences required more investigation, but higher prevalence was seen in the Middle East and East Asian populations, and university students in Korea “showed a greater level of dependence (11.15%) than the Americans (6.36%).”
Researchers in China examined cyberbullying, depression, and mobile phone addiction in high school students. Published in April 2022 in the Frontiers in Psychology journal, the authors recruited 1,297 high school students to complete three questionnaires.
The Smartphone Addiction Scale asked about withdrawal behaviors, salience behaviors such as the need to use a phone to feel satisfied, social comfort, negative effects, and excessive use of applications. Higher scores were associated with higher levels of addiction.
The European Cyberbullying Intervention Project Questionnaire asked about cyberbullying victimization and perpetration. Victimization referred to items such as threatening or harassing messages, and perpetration referred to activities such as publishing “inflammatory rumors that have damaged others’ reputations.”
Finally, the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale asked about depressed affect such as being bothered by something, positive affect such as feeling “no worse” than others, somatic and retarded activity, such as having a poor appetite, and interpersonal feelings such as thinking others are not friendly. A higher score correlates with a higher degree of depression.
Overall, addiction to mobile phones was associated with a high rate of depression. Addiction was a risk factor for both being a victim to cyberbullying and becoming a cyberbully. Furthermore, students who endured cyberbullying victimization were more likely to become perpetrators.
The authors found that depression and addiction were significantly higher in girls compared to boys, whereas the “level of cyberbullying victimization and cyberbullying perpetration” was higher in boys than in girls.
Further analysis also showed boys who were victims of cyberbullying were more likely to become cyberbullies than girls.
The mediating role of sleep quality in the relationship between mobile phone addiction and depression was examined in a study published in BMC Psychiatry in August of 2022 with a sample of 450 Chinese medical students. Participants took about 10 minutes to complete online surveys, and those who took less than five minutes were excluded from the study.
Chinese versions of the mobile phone addiction index (MPAI) for addiction, Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9) for depression, and Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) for sleep quality were used. Peer relationships were measured based on the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment (IPPA) scale.
Depression was positively correlated with addiction, and poor sleep quality was associated with worse peer relationships. Addiction to mobile phones was correlated with poor sleep quality and worse peer relationships.
The authors concluded, “Sleep quality partially mediated the association between mobile phone addiction and depression. Moreover, the effect of sleep quality on depression was moderated by peer relationships.”