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Smartphone Acquisition Improves Mental Well-being among Younger Generation: Study

Yusuf Balogun
Yusuf Balogun
Yusuf is a law graduate and freelance journalist with a keen interest in tech reporting.

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As smartphone acquisition continues to increase in recent years, the mental well-being of the younger generation is said to have improved extensively. A recent global study of 27,969 young adults is showing that the age at which the younger generation acquired their first smartphone or tablet strongly correlates with their mental health status in young adulthood.

The study, which was conducted by Sapien Labs – a non-profit organization that uses tools to understand the diversity of the human brain and how it relates to cognitive and mental health outcomes, says the finding is part of the Global Mind Project – an ongoing survey of global mental wellbeing. The project acquired data through an assessment that queries 47 aspects of mental function on a life impact scale to create an aggregate mental well-being score, the Mental Health Quotient or MHQ, as well as scores of various dimensions of mental function.

Sapien Labs learned that this age-based pattern of declining mental well-being differs from patterns before 2010. Citing an example in the United States, the study realized that psychological well-being metrics were highest for young and old adults, dipping across middle-aged groups leading to the concept of the U-shaped curve of happiness.

Since it was founded in 2016, Sapien Labs has been on a mission to comprehend and stimulate the human mind. In her last year’s findings, the firm inferred that the growth of smartphone use and an increase in social isolation point to a decline in the mental health of young adults aged 18-24.

Sapien Labs’s Findings

In the latest study of 27,969 young adults, they discovered that the younger these young adults were when they first acquired a phone or tablet that they could carry around in childhood, the better off they were mental as adults. The Social Self, a composite measurement of multiple components including self-confidence and the capacity to form pleasant relationships with others, in particular, was the aspect of mental well-being that has shown the most improvement.

In addition, the study further showed that younger phone owners were more likely to have suicidal thoughts, emotions of aggressiveness against other people, and a sensation of being divorced from reality. These patterns were prevalent throughout the world’s examined regions, including the Core Anglosphere, Western Europe, Latin America, South Asia, and Africa, and were more pronounced in women than in men.

“These findings suggest that there are long-term improvements in mental well-being for each year of delay in getting a smartphone during childhood,” said Tara Thiagarajan Sapien Labs’s Chief Scientist. “It’s important that we continue to study this relationship and work to develop effective policies and interventions that can support healthy mental development in the digital age to reverse the declining trends we have been tracking.”

How Sapien Labs Links Age of First Smartphone to Mental Wellbeing

During the study, Sapien Labs discovered that mental well-being consistently improved with the older age of first ownership of a smartphone or tablet, with a steeper change in females compared to males. The study found that from 74% of females who acquired their first smartphone at age 6 to 46% of females who obtained one at age 18, fewer females reported having mental health issues. Males had a decrease in the percentage from 42% at age 6 to 36% at age 18.

Moreover, the study further cited social self, an aggregate measure of how people perceive themselves and their relationships with others, and one of the six dimensions of mental function assessed, significantly improved with older age of first smartphone ownership in both males and females. Other characteristics, like Mood & Outlook and Adaptability & Resilience, also markedly improved with the proliferation of smartphones in their explanations for females.

The study found that as first smartphone ownership ages increased for both males and females, but to a lesser extent, it was found that problems with suicidal thoughts, feelings of aggression toward others, a sense of being detached from reality, and hallucinations decreased most steeply and significantly.

Describing how the mental well-being of the younger generation has been able to modify greatly, the study augmented that the relationship between mental well-being at age 18-24 and the age of first smartphone acquisition remained significant, even in those with no traumatic or adverse childhood experience.

Mental Wellbeing Improved with Older Age of Smartphone Ownership

Referring to the Mental Health Quotient (MHQ) survey, Sapien Labs came to the conclusion that young adults aged 18-24 who acquired their first smartphone at each older age had, on average, progressively better mental well-being. They claimed that the trend existed in both biological males and females. However, while it was very significant for females in every location, the trend for males was simply directional and not significant outside of South Asia.

Additionally, the study explained that MHQ scores for females who got their first smartphone before turning 10 were typically in the negative range, which denotes a clinically distressed mental health status. In line with this, 74% of female respondents who had their first smartphone at age 6 reported mental well-being scores that fell into the MHQ range for distressed or struggling. For those who acquired their first smartphone at age 10 and 52% for those who did so at age 15, this dropped to 61% and 52%, respectively. Overall, 46% of people who had their first smartphone at age 18 were still experiencing mental anguish or struggle.

For males, on the other hand, Sapien Labs asserted that for all ages of first smartphone acquisition, the tendency was not as pronounced as for females, and MHQ scores were higher. Men, for instance, had an average MHQ score of 32 when they got their first smartphone at age 10, but women had an average MHQ score of 5. In line with this, 43% of men and 61% of women had test results that were labelled troubled or struggling. For all ages of the initial smartphone acquisition, male MHQ scores were 20–25 points higher on average than those of their female counterparts.

Last Line

Consequently, it can be rightly said that the rapid growth in smartphone acquisition in our contemporary society has systematically improved mental well-being among the younger generation. However, the negative effects on these generations should not be left unaddressed considering the happenings in our various environments. The study’s overall conclusions point to potential long-term dangers of introducing a child to a smartphone or tablet at an early age that parents, school officials, and lawmakers should be aware of.


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