Quantifying smartphone ‘use’: Choice of measurement impacts relationships between ‘usage’ and health

Heather Shaw, David Ellis, Kristoffer Geyer, Brittany Davidson, Fenja Ziegler, Alice Smith

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Problematic smartphone scales and duration estimates of use dominate research that considers the impact of smartphones on people and society. However, issues with conceptualisation 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 usage (PSU) scales, subjective estimates, or objective logs, leads 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 smartphone ‘addiction’ scale instead of objective measures. 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.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTechnology, Mind, and Behavior
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2020


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