woman surfing internet with mobile phone

Effect of sreen time on mental health not cut and dry.

University researchers have carried out the largest systematic review and meta-analysis to date of how people’s perceptions of their screen time compare with what they do in practice, finding estimates of usage were only accurate in about five per cent of studies.

The international team say this casts doubt on the validity of research on the impact of screen time on mental health, and its influences on government policy, as the vast majority rely on participants to estimate (self-report) how long they spend on digital devices, rather than logs of actual usage, or tracked time.

“For decades, researchers have relied on estimates of how we use various technologies to study how people use digital media and the potential outcomes this behaviour can lead to. Our findings suggest that much of this work may be on unstable footing,” said lead researcher Dr Doug Parry at Stellenbosch University.

“The screen time discrepancies highlight that we simply do not know enough yet about the actual effects (both positive and negative) of our media use. Researchers, journalists, members of the public, and crucially policy makers need to question the quality of evidence when they consider research on media uses and effects. We can no longer simply take claims of harmful effects at face value.”


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University researchers have carried out the largest systematic review and meta-analysis to date of how people’s perceptions of their screen time compare with what they do in practice, finding estimates of usage were only accurate in about five per cent of studies.

The international team say this casts doubt on the validity of research on the impact of screen time on mental health, and its influences on government policy, as the vast majority rely on participants to estimate (self-report) how long they spend on digital devices, rather than logs of actual usage, or tracked time.

“For decades, researchers have relied on estimates of how we use various technologies to study how people use digital media and the potential outcomes this behaviour can lead to. Our findings suggest that much of this work may be on unstable footing,” said lead researcher Dr Doug Parry at Stellenbosch University.

“The screen time discrepancies highlight that we simply do not know enough yet about the actual effects (both positive and negative) of our media use. Researchers, journalists, members of the public, and crucially policy makers need to question the quality of evidence when they consider research on media uses and effects. We can no longer simply take claims of harmful effects at face value.”


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