Media Use Is Linked to Lower Psychological Well-Being: Evidence from Three Datasets

Psychiatr Q. 2019 Jun;90(2):311-331. doi: 10.1007/s11126-019-09630-7.


Adolescents spend a substantial and increasing amount of time using digital media (smartphones, computers, social media, gaming, Internet), but existing studies do not agree on whether time spent on digital media is associated with lower psychological well-being (including happiness, general well-being, and indicators of low well-being such as depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts). Across three large surveys of adolescents in two countries (n = 221,096), light users (<1 h a day) of digital media reported substantially higher psychological well-being than heavy users (5+ hours a day). Datasets initially presented as supporting opposite conclusions produced similar effect sizes when analyzed using the same strategy. Heavy users (vs. light) of digital media were 48% to 171% more likely to be unhappy, to be in low in well-being, or to have suicide risk factors such as depression, suicidal ideation, or past suicide attempts. Heavy users (vs. light) were twice as likely to report having attempted suicide. Light users (rather than non- or moderate users) were highest in well-being, and for most digital media use the largest drop in well-being occurred between moderate use and heavy use. The limitations of using percent variance explained as a gauge of practical impact are discussed.

Keywords: Digital media; Electronic gaming; Happiness; Psychological well-being; Social media; Suicide.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Computers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Datasets as Topic / statistics & numerical data
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Happiness*
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Smartphone / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Media / statistics & numerical data
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Video Games / statistics & numerical data*