Should smartphones come with a health warning?

The debate about whether smartphone addiction is real or we just really like our mobiles has taken another twist this week as researchers from the University of Derby claim that smartphones should come with a health warning.

As The Guardian reports, they conducted a study into smartphone usage, now published in the International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning. They surveyed 256 people about their personalities, what they did on their phone, and how often they used it.

As you might expect, actually speaking to others wasn’t a popular activity: most of the group preferred to use their phone for social media, instant messaging, and checking the news. Disturbingly, 35% of users admitted to using their phones in situations where they’re banned, like while driving.

On average, people spent 3.6 hours per day using their phone. Around half of the study participants said this improved their relationships as it allowed them to keep in touch with others. But a quarter said it had negatively impacted relationships, in part because it distracted them from IRL conversations with family and friends.

Dr Zaheer Hussain, from the University of Derby’s psychology department, says that heavy Twitter and Facebook use is linked to narcissism and that 13% of the participants in the study were addicted to their phones He believes they should carry health warnings, especially when downloading apps that people could get hooked on.

‘If you’re downloading a game such as Candy Crush or Flappy Bird there could be a warning saying that you could end up playing this for hours and you have other responsibilities,’ he says. (The only problem is that most people are only too aware they have other responsibilities – that’s why they wanted to distract themselves in the first place…)

The study also links spending too much time on a mobile with a breakdown in family relationships, and suggests this downside of the devices should be advertised – although I’m guessing Apple, Samsung, and their competitors won’t be adding that to their ads anytime soon.

Diane Shipley