A new global study carried out by Sapien Labs, a Washington-based non-profit organisation, has found that the later children and young people own a smartphone, the better their mental health may be as adults. It also highlighted that women who received smartphones at an early age were more severely impacted than their male counterparts.
Published on Sunday (May 14), the study, ‘Age of First Smartphone and Mental Well-being Outcomes’, examined the mental health status of today’s 18-24-year-olds in relation to the age at which they first got their own smartphone or tablet. The research is a part of the Global Mind Project, an ongoing survey of global mental well-being, conducted by Sapien Labs — a Washington-based non-profit organisation that aims to “understand and enable the human mind”.
The findings are based on the data collected between this year’s January and April, from 27,969 18–24-year-olds that were predominantly from 41 countries across North America, Europe, Latin America, Oceania, South Asia, and Africa.
In a statement, Sapien Labs’ founder Dr Tara Thiagarajan said, “These findings suggest that there are long-term improvements in mental well-being for each year of delay in getting a smartphone during childhood”.
“It’s important that we continue to study this relationship and work to develop effective policies and interventions that can support healthy mental development in the digital age to reverse the declining trends we have been tracking.,” she added.
What methods were used to carry out the study?
The study collected data from participants by using an assessment that spans 47 elements covering a wide range of symptoms and mental capabilities on a life impact scale that are combined to provide an aggregate score, called the Mental Health Quotient or MHQ, as well as dimensional scores. The researchers then compared these scores and ratings of individual elements to the reported age of first smartphone or tablet ownership among 18-24-year-olds.
What are the key findings of the study?
*The study revealed that young adults aged 18-24, who acquired smartphones at an early age, were found to have poorer mental health, with women more severely affected than men. It added that the percentage of men experiencing mental health challenges decreased from 42% for those who got their first smartphone at age 6, to 36% for those who received it at age 18. Whereas, for women, the percentage declined from 74% at age 6 to 46% at age 18. “However, while for females it (the observed pattern) was highly significant across all regions, for males the trend was only directional but not significant in South Asia.,” the study mentioned.
*It also observed that when kids get smartphones at an older age, their “Social Self, an aggregate measure of various elements such as self-confidence and the ability to relate positively to others,” improves. For women, other dimensions such as “Mood & Outlook and Adaptability & Resilience” got much better when they acquired smartphones at an older age.
*Moreover, mental health problems like suicidal thoughts, feelings of aggression towards others, a sense of being detached from reality and hallucinations significantly decrease if children get smartphones later in their life.
*The study also noted that the relationship between mental well-being at age 18-24 and the age of first smartphone acquisition is significant even among participants with no traumatic or adverse childhood experience.