It is often assumed that traditional types of medis such as books, music, or television are better for mental well-being compared to newer forms of media like video games or online social networks. However, a new study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports has found that consuming traditional media has little effect on short-term adult well-being.
A research team led by the University of Oxford studied the media consumption habits and mental well-being levels of 2,159 UK adult participants between April and May 2020, using data collected through a nationally representative survey. Through weekly questionnaires, conducted during six weeks, participants reported how much time they spent engaging with forms of media such as books, audiobooks, magazines, music, film, television, and videogames. Moreover, they had to answer questions about their happiness and anxiety levels during each week.
The scientists found that those who consumed books, audiobooks, or magazines had similar happiness and anxiety levels to participants who didn’t, while those who engaged with music, film, television, and video games tended to feel less happy and more anxious.
However, these differences appeared to be small and not causal, and changes in the types of media that the participants consumed and the amount of time they spent engaging with traditional forms of media did not seem to predict substantial changes in happiness or anxiety levels. Thus, in contrast to previous views, the overall impact of consuming traditional types of media on short-term well-being appeared to be negligible.
“Our results do not suggest policymakers should act to encourage or discourage media use on the basis of well-being alone,” the study authors wrote.
“At the same time, media use may have indirect effects. For example, time spent playing video games during lockdown means less time meeting others, thereby contributing to social distancing. There is also much to learn on the optimal time lag and what people actually do with media, rather than relying on a simplistic dose-response model.”
“The question of whether media use is generally bad has been answered with a convincing no in the past five years. It is time to collect fine-grained data that combine various time lags with objective measures of different types of behavior, content, and subjective motivations for interacting with media. Such data would enable societal and scholarly discourse to move on to more pressing questions about the role of media in our lives.”