Cutting smartphone use by just an hour a day improves well-being for months

BOCHUM, Germany — Do you need to throw your smartphone in the trash to live your best life? Not necessarily, according to researchers from Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) who suggest that we could all benefit from cutting down on screen time — but only a little bit.

Estimates show the average adult spends about three hours daily scrolling away on their smartphone. Between social media, news feeds, endless video games, and an app for pretty much everything else, there’s literally always something to captivate our attention. In recent years, studies have blamed smartphones for a litany of modern problems ranging from rising anxiety rates to neck pain. It begs the question: Are people all really better off switching back to flip phones and landlines?

“The smartphone is both a blessing and a curse,” says study leader Dr. Julia Brailovskaia in a university release.

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Study authors set out to answer that question by gathering together 619 participants. They separated the volunteers into three groups: 200 told to avoid using their smartphone totally, 226 who reduced their daily use by just one hour, and 193 who kept using their smartphone as they usually would.

Researchers also interviewed each person about both their overall lifestyle habits and well-being one and four months after the experimental week ended. More specifically, study authors examined how often people were exercising, how many cigarettes they were smoking on a daily basis, how satisfied with their lives they felt, and if they were feeling depressed or anxious.

“We found that both completely giving up the smartphone and reducing its daily use by one hour had positive effects on the lifestyle and well-being of the participants,” explains Dr. Brailovskaia. “In the group who reduced use, these effects even lasted longer and were thus more stable than in the abstinence group.”

Notably, changing their smartphone habits for just one week appeared to produce lasting results among subjects. Even four months afterward, participants who had been assigned to the abstinence group were using their phones for an average of 38 minutes less per day.

Meanwhile, the “one hour less” group was using their phones as much as 45 minutes less per day after four months. This group also showed improved life satisfaction, more exercise, and less depression, anxiety, and nicotine use.

“It’s not necessary to completely give up the smartphone to feel better,” Dr. Brailovskaia concludes. “There may be an optimal daily usage time.”

The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology Applied.