Screens Might Be As Bad For Mental Health As... Potatoes
Psychologists can't agree on how technology impacts our sense of well-being
Psychologists can't seem to agree on what technology is doing to our sense of well-being. Some say digital devices have become a bane of modern life; others claim they’re a balm for it. Between them lies a shadowy landscape of non-consensus: As the director the National Institutes of Health recently told Congress, research into technology's effects on our thoughts, behaviors, and development has produced limited—and often contradictory—findings.
As if that uncertainty weren't vexing enough, many of those findings have sprung from the same source: Giant data sets that compile survey data from thousands or even millions of participants. "The problem is, two researchers can look at the same data and come away with completely different findings and prescriptions for society," says psychologist Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute. "Technological optimists tend to find positive correlations. If they’re pessimists, they tend to find negative ones."
In the latest issue of Nature Human Behavior, Przybylski and coauthor Amy Orben use a novel statistical method to show why scientists studying these colossal data sets have been getting such different results and why most of the associations researchers have found, positive and negative, are very small—and probably not worth freaking out about.
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