The news: Two psychology professors have examined about 40 studies that investigate how the use of smartphones is related to depression and anxiety among teenagers. The conclusion? Any link is small, and it’s not clear whether it’s causal.
Mixed messages: The paper, written by Candice Odgers and Michaeline Jensen of the University of North Carolina, says that research to date has generated a mix of often conflicting associations between smartphone and social-media use and mental health issues. The most recent and rigorous studies don’t offer a way to distinguish cause and effect, they conclude, and are unlikely to be of clinical or practical significance.
Not alone: The article was published just a few weeks after a paper by Amy Orben, a researcher at the University of Cambridge. She combed through over 80 systematic reviews and meta-analyses on this topic, and found a similar result: a small negative link between digital technology use and well-being, with the cause and effect unclear. An upcoming study from Jeff Hancock, the founder of the Stanford Social Media Lab, reached similar conclusions, according to the New York Times.
The significance: These papers suggest that the panic over teens and screen time may have been overblown. Although it’s important for our well-being that we include exercise and face-to-face social activities in our daily lives, the screen itself may may not live up to its bogeyman status.
What next? The entire field needs to rethink how it conducts its research. Orben has some advice. It needs to focus on “improving transparency, interpreting effect sizes and changing measurement” and “show a greater appreciation for the individual differences that will inherently shape each adolescent’s reaction to digital technologies,” she wrote.
What’s next for AI regulation in 2024?
The coming year is going to see the first sweeping AI laws enter into force, with global efforts to hold tech companies accountable.
Meet the economist who wants the field to account for nature
Gretchen Daily is working to make the environment more of an element in economic decision-making.
Three technology trends shaping 2024’s elections
The biggest story of this year will be elections in the US and all around the globe
Four lessons from 2023 that tell us where AI regulation is going
What we should expect in the coming 12 months in AI policy
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.