Phone Usage and the Impact on Social Interactions and Health

Written at Walt Whitman High School

By Ian Poe



Abstract

This literature review examines studies that investigated the relationships between the amount of time spent on phones, mental and physical health, and social relationships. I discuss two main ways that smartphones are detrimental to human health: directly, via smartphone addiction and social media use, and indirectly, through deteriorating the quality of one’s social interactions. Smartphone addiction and social media use has been linked to multiple health issues such as depression and anxiety. Smartphone usage also affects the quality of in person interactions, leading to the deterioration of social relationships which are strongly correlated with overall health.


Introduction

Today, 68.4 percent of the U.S. population has a smartphone (Gordon, 2019). These devices are vital to our everyday lives, helping us communicate with others, navigate, shop, browse the web, and much more. When smartphones that were wifi enabled were available to the consumer marketplace in 2001 they were tools to make lives easier. Now, after numerous advancements, they have become central to the way in which we run our lives. Smartphone addiction is now a major issue (New Theory, 2016) and it is causing serious health problems (University of Cambridge, 2019). Both social and psychological problems stem from smartphones in that their use often lowers the quality of face to face interactions, and excessive screen time (and social media usage) is associated with depression and anxiety.(University of Pennsylvania).


Phones Lower the Quality of Face to Face Interactions

Phones were originally designed to connect people. In today’s technological age there are a plethora of social media applications designed to connect the user to the world around them. According to a 2019 Marketing Media study by NBC, "Nearly three quarters of the world will use just their smartphones to access the internet by 2025." However, while these applications enable users to attain and maintain surface level friendships, the quality of social interactions is low and can leave one feeling more socially isolated (Dwyer, Kushlev & Dunn, 2017). Smartphone usage during face-to-face conversations is becoming ever more prevalent; 89% of smartphone users admit to having used their phone during their most recent social interaction (Rainie & Zickuhr, 2015). Using phones during a social interaction requires dual processing, which diverts attention from the person(s) with which one is conversing (Strayer, Drews & Johnston, 2003; Strayer & Johnston, 2001, as cited in Ictech, 2018). Apart from phones reducing the quality of one’s attention, the other person(s) in the conversation may feel devalued. In this situation, the individual(s) without their phone out will turn to a defense mechanism, which more likely than not turns out to be to taking out their own phone (Ictech, 2018). This further disrupts the conversation and undermines the enjoyment people derive from real world interactions (Dwyer, Kushlev & Dunn, 2017).


The Connection and Reasons for the Link Between Social Relationships and Health

When people think of ways to improve their health, social relationships are not what come to mind. However, there is a strong connection between one’s social relationships and one’s health. In fact, “adults who are more socially connected are healthier and live longer than their more isolated peers” (Umberson & Montez, 2010). This is even the case when study participants’ baseline health status is controlled for (House, Landis, & Umberson, 1988). The exact reason for why one’s quality and quantity of social relationships are interrelated with one’s health is yet to be discovered. However, there are three widely accepted explanations-- behavioral, psychological, and physiological.

Behaviorists believe that one is the product of one’s own habits and social influences. In fact, behavioral patterns cause 40 percent of premature deaths (McGinnis & Foege, 1993, as cited in McGinnis et. al, 2002). These behavioral patterns are influenced for better or for worse by one’s social ties (Umberson, Crosnoe, & Reczek, 2010). For example, good friends may encourage you to work out and eat healthy, whereas bad friends may offer you drugs or alcohol. For this reason, surrounding oneself with good influences is vital to one’s health.

The quality and quantity of one’s support system can make one’s psychological state much healthier. Friends are great to talk to about feelings, stresses and problems. Hundreds of studies have established how social support is beneficial for mental and physical health (Umberson & Montez, 2010), which are interconnected (Chapman, Perry, & Strine, 2005). Thus if one’s support system merely helped them implement healthy behaviors, then that would carry over to helping them psychologically as well, and vice versa.

Health and social connections are interrelated physiologically. Social relationships can not only change one's behaviors and decrease one’s stress, but they can also change the chemical and physical way one's body functions. There is evidence that “supportive interactions with others benefits immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular functions and reduces allostatic load” (McEwen 1998; Seeman et al. 2002; Uchino 2004, as cited in Umberson & Montez, 2010).


Excessive Screen Time can be Detrimental to Health:

Screen time is the amount of time that a person spends on their phone over a period of time, normally measured in a day or a week. A study conducted on 40,337 children aged two to seventeen years old, reported that the health risks associated with too much screen time increase in conjunction with screen time (Twenge & Campbell, 2018). As “after just one hour of use, more hours of daily screen time were associated with lower psychological well-being, including less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, being more difficult to care for, and inability to finish tasks” (Twenge & Campbell, 2018). However, smartphone usage is not inherently bad. There is evidence that small amounts of screen time may even have some benefits (Stiglic & Viner, 2019). One of the main hypotheses for why screen time is harmful is that it normally coincides with increased time on social media.

Social media is seen by many as essential for daily life because of its ability to make people feel connected. However, most do not weigh the effects of this technology on their lives and health. An experimental study found that subjects who limited their time spent on social media showed a significant decrease in depression and loneliness (University of Pennsylvania, 2018). The psychological repercussions of social media arise because of the unhealthy comparisons and jealousy that social media platforms fuel (Rao, 2018). Likes and comments signify social validation. Some users feel pressure to post content that will receive these, and feel inferior when their posts don't receive as many likes and comments. Profiles and posts can also serve as a point of comparison,encouraging social comparison with resulting feelings of relative deprivation as one may feel like their lives are not as rich as those depicted on social media.

According to a 2019 study, 36% of young adults in the U.S have reported being bullied through the internet in the last 30 days. Internet bullying is a growing problem worldwide with 7 in 10 young people in the U.K. saying they have experienced it (Royal Society for Public Health, 2017). While social media platforms may serve as scaffold for socially anxious young people, providing them with the opportunity to engage in conversation with more confident language, it has been shown that it may actually exacerbate and prolong emotions associated with loneliness by discouraging offline, real-world interactions (Casale & Fioravanti, 2015, as cited in Stephen, 2018).


Conclusion:

This literature review looked at indirect correlations between the amount of time we spend on our phones (screen time), our mental and physical health, and our social relationships. I establish how phones have a negative effect on health directly and through harming in person social interactions. Excessive smartphone addiction has been correlationally shown to harm health and excessive social media use has been experimentally shown to cause anxiety and depression. Phones take away from social interactions by distracting, thus making people feel as though they are not being listened to. This damages social relationships which are vital to overall health. There are strong correlations between the amount and the quality of social relationships and individual’s health outcomes. However, phones and social media are not all bad, they serve important purposes and when used in moderation can be healthy. Research on the topic of screen time as it relates to social interactions and overall health is important as it can save our generation from being absorbed in technology. An experimental or correlational study would greatly advance the scientific literature on this topic. A possible correlational study could be performed using a survey. The survey would ask for participants’ average screen time per day for that week, the week before and the week before that. A rating of their mental health and physical health. A write-in question which would not be quantifiable could serve to get more in touch with the subjects and provide valuable insight into what should be studied next. The negative consequences of phones are well documented, but it is up to each individual to practice self control and limit their own screen time to have better social relationships and live a healthier life.



References

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Dwyer, R. J., Kushlev, K., & Dunn, E. W. (2017, November 6). Smartphone use undermines enjoyment of face-to-face social interactions. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022103117301737

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House, J. S., Landis, K. R., & Umberson, D. (1988, July 29). Social relationships and health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3399889/

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--- title: 'Phone Usage and the Impact on Social Interactions and Health' authors: [ 'Ian Poe' ] school: 'Walt Whitman High School' category: 'study' tags: [ 'Social Psychology' ] ---