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Quantifying Smartphone “Use”: Choice of Measurement Impacts Relationships Between “Usage” and Health

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/11/2020
<mark>Journal</mark>Technology, Mind, and Behavior
Issue number2
Number of pages15
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Problematic smartphone scales and duration estimates of use dominate research that considers the impact of smartphones on people and society. However, issues with conceptualization and subsequent measurement can obscure genuine associations between technology use and health. Here, we consider whether different ways of measuring “smartphone use,” notably through problematic smartphone use (PSU) scales, subjective estimates, or objective logs, lead to contrasting associations between mental and physical health. Across two samples including iPhone (n = 199) and Android (n = 46) users, we observed that measuring smartphone interactions with PSU scales produced larger associations between mental health when compared with subjective estimates or objective logs. Notably, the size of the relationship was fourfold in Study 1, and almost three times as large in Study 2, when relying on a PSU scale that measured smartphone “addiction” instead of objective use. Further, in regression models, only smartphone “addiction” scores predicted mental health outcomes, whereas objective logs or estimates were not significant predictors. We conclude that addressing people’s appraisals including worries about their technology usage is likely to have greater mental health benefits than reducing their overall smartphone use. Reducing general smartphone use should therefore not be a priority for public health interventions at this time.