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Study: The internet is not bad for your mental health

A comprehensive international study conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute has challenged the widespread assumption that the internet significantly harms mental health and psychological well-being.

The research, encompassing data from over two million individuals across 168 countries, suggests only minor and inconsistent links between internet use and psychological distress.

Mental health and the internet

Professor Andrew Przybylski from the Oxford Internet Institute and Assistant Professor Matti Vuorre of Tilburg University, along with their team, analyzed extensive data spanning two decades. They found only slight and inconsistent changes in global well-being and mental health.

“We looked very hard for a ‘smoking gun’ linking technology and well-being and we didn’t find it,” states Professor Przybylski.

The study is notable for its breadth, examining the largest dataset on well-being and internet adoption to date. Professor Vuorre notes, “Although we couldn’t address causal effects of internet use, our descriptive results indicated small and inconsistent associations.”

Demographic insights

Contrary to common beliefs, the study found no specific demographic patterns among internet users, regardless of age or gender. Interestingly, for the average country, life satisfaction increased more for females over the period. Professor Przybylski asserts, “There is no evidence to support popular ideas that certain groups are more at risk.”

The research team also explored the relationship between mobile broadband adoption and life satisfaction. They discovered a positive correlation, but the association was too insignificant to hold practical relevance.

Scientists call for transparency

The researchers emphasize the necessity for technology companies to share their data for more conclusive research. “Research on the effects of internet technologies is stalled because the data most urgently needed are collected and held behind closed doors by technology companies and online platforms,” the study highlights.

The study involved contrasting data on well-being and mental health against internet and mobile broadband usage. The assessment of well-being was conducted through face-to-face and phone surveys in native languages, while mental health data were derived from statistical estimates of depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and self-harm from 2000 to 2019.

In summary, the Oxford Internet Institute’s study presents a nuanced understanding of the relationship between internet use and psychological well-being. It challenges the narrative of the internet as a major negative influence on mental health, calling for more data transparency for comprehensive research in the future.

The full paper ‘Global Well-Being and Mental Health in the Internet Age’ was published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

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