Study appears to debunk link between internet use and mental health


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Why it matters: It's long been claimed that using the internet, social media apps, and smartphones has a negative effect on our mental health. However, a new study that used data from over 2 million people disputes this belief. The researchers say they looked for a smoking gun linking tech with mental well-being, but didn't find it.

Andrew Przybylski, a professor of human behavior and technology at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), and Matti Vuorre, a research associate at OII, authored a study titled "Global Well-Being and Mental Health in the Internet Age." It investigates the long-held belief that the internet has a detrimental effect on users' mental health.

One of the significant differences between this study and similar investigations is its expansive data set. The researchers gathered data from 2.4 million people aged between 15 and 89 in 168 countries between 2005 and 2022.

The first part of the study focused on the participants' psychological well-being based on self-reports of life satisfaction, positive experiences, and negative experiences. This was contrasted against each country's internet and mobile broadband adoption over the past two decades.

The second part of the study focused on mental health using meta-analytic rates of anxiety, depression, and self-harm over 20 years and their associations with internet-technology adoption.

The researchers concluded that there have been only small and inconsistent changes in global well-being and mental health across the past twenty years. This is despite global internet usage increasing from 17% in 2005 to 65.7% in 2023, suggesting no link between the two.

"We looked very hard for a 'smoking gun' linking technology and well-being and we didn't find it," said Przybylski. "The popular idea that the internet and mobile phones have a blanket negative effect on wellbeing and mental health is not likely to be accurate," he added.

"It is indeed possible that there are smaller and more important things going on, but any sweeping claims about the negative impact of the internet globally should be treated with a very high level of skepticism."

In addition to gathering data from users directly, the researchers collected information from technology companies, though this proved difficult given the security restrictions applied to certain data. The researchers urged these firms to be more open with this information for the sake of studies like these.

"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 researchers said.

One section of the report that did agree with other studies is the association between social media use and life satisfaction being more negative at specific time windows in adolescence.

Back in 2021, leaked documents showed that Facebook had spent the last few years examining the effects Instagram has on younger users' mental health. The company had long insisted that social media can positively impact users' state of mind, but its research appeared to contradict those statements. "We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls," stated a Facebook internal presentation.

In October, it was reported that 40 US states are suing Facebook for harming children's mental health, claiming parent company Meta had "profited from children's pain."

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When people wake up to the harsh reality not everyone that follows them on the internet is their friend in the real world, then you tell me that doesn't affect their mental state.

It may not be a smoking gun, but it sure looks like a blood dripping knife.
In addition to gathering data from users directly, the researchers collected information from technology companies, though this proved difficult given the security restrictions applied to certain data. The researchers urged these firms to be more open with this information for the sake of studies like these.
Like that is going to happen. :rolleyes:

We all know that the "firms" will never be more open with their data as anything revealed that is negative will impact the amount of money that they have in their wallets. Money is their God and the more Money that they have the more it proves that the "firms" are King of the hill. Their users well-being be damned if it means even the remote chance of losing Money.
Internet usage is kind of a broad playing field right? Like everything else, surely it depends what you do on it? Some people like pictures of kittens. Some of us enjoy arguing about nonsense on these very pages!
These studies are hard - as no controls we take 1000 people - 500 can use internet freely as much as they like - 500 can not use it - we will follow then for 3 years - Not happening

If someone is a sick puppy - then the internet will probably make them a sicker puppy - IMHO

A good paranoid - should be paranoid even to get close to the internet by definition
Thee is no doubt despite any study done by anyone that the internet can be a mentally unhealthy place. If you visit all the porn and violence and political sites you will come away affected and not for the good. The net is what you make it.
In my case, I've been accessing the 'net since the mid-1990s, and before that, BBSes.

For those who come from similar generations, we probably have the same background, e.g., regular TV, pop music on the radio (with some audio dramas), going to movie theaters, reading newspapers, books, and magazines, going to libraries, followed by cable, consoles, and PCs, and then later pagers, cell phones, and smart phones, coupled with dialups, then DSL, then fiber, etc. I'm guessing that you use streaming because you want to avoid traffic, crowds, and other conveniences, ads in free-to-air and being able to watch shows without waiting for them, but you still listen to the radio in the car, read a book, magazine, or newspaper when you're a passenger, and have difficulty using phones and even laptops because screens and any keyboards are small, but you do so out of necessity (like getting directions and paying for things online to avail of discounts).

And if we companions who like to talk, then we spend more time chatting.
Well, I have been around for all of the internet. If there were going to be negative effects, I should be a serial killer by now. Thankfully I am not.