Study Finds No Clear Link Between Internet Use and Mental Health Problems

A large new study has found no clear evidence that time spent online, including activities like social media and gaming, is causing widespread harm to mental health. The research looked at internet use and wellbeing data from over 2 million people across hundreds of countries.

While some past studies have linked technology use, especially among teens, to issues like depression and anxiety, this research found only small associations. The authors say more definitive proof is still lacking without further data from tech firms.

The study was conducted by researchers Andrew Przybylski and Matti Vuorre and published in the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Psychological Science. The authors examined mental health and internet adoption data going back to 2000 from countries representing over 90% of the global population under age 30.

They concluded that their results do not show that “the internet and related technologies are actively promoting or harming global mental health.” While some statistically significant relationships existed, the size of these links was generally small.

Przybylski, a professor at Oxford, argued that most existing research in this area relies on poor evidence. He believes that demonstrating harm requires showing clear causal connections between specific online activities and mental health outcomes. However, the data needed to do this is held privately by tech firms like Meta and TikTok.

By contrast, policies like banning phones for teens are not justified by current proof, he says. Regulators should have evidence meeting “the standards required for a diagnosis” before intervening based on “random ideas” about technology’s dangers. He compared such proposals to ineffective “security theater.”

The study pushes back against rising fears, especially in English-speaking countries. Anxiety over social media’s impact has focused on suicidal thoughts and self-harm among teenage girls. Meta’s Instagram app, for instance, has faced scrutiny over internal research into its effects on young female users’ body image issues.

However, the researchers emphasize global differences in cultural attitudes toward technology and mental health. They say it’s problematic to extrapolate too much from Western societies to the whole world. More cross-national work is required to separate out media panics from genuine threats.

This report is unlikely to end debates on the topic, especially with technology’s rapid evolution. But the authors argue policymakers should exercise caution and avoid rash actions not firmly grounded in empirical evidence. More cooperation from tech companies may prove essential to getting definitive answers.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

Zoom Health is a leading UK supplier of Home Health Tests and Earplugs

You May Also Like: