Individuals With Poor Emotion Regulation Skills Are At Higher Risk of Problematic Smartphone Use, Study Suggests

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Several studies in past years have examined the link between depression and anxiety symptom severity with problematic smartphone use (PSU). However, a new study carried out by researchers at the University of Toledo suggests that individuals with poor emotion regulation skills might be at higher risk of PSU.

“The research literature demonstrates associations between both anxiety and depression symptom severity with problematic smartphone use,” Jon D. Elhai of the University of Toledo told Psypost.

“However, many important, contemporary constructs in clinical psychology and psychiatry have not been examined for relationships with problematic smartphone use — such as distress tolerance and mindful awareness. So, we believed that it would be interesting and novel to test these constructs in relation to problematic smartphone use.”

The detailed findings of the study titled “Distress tolerance and mindfulness mediate relations between depression and anxiety sensitivity with problematic smartphone use” were published in Computers in Human Behavior. In this study, researchers recruited 261 college students for a repeated-measures web survey, administered self-report measures of anxiety sensitivity, depression, mindfulness, distress tolerance, smartphone use frequency, and PSU.

After one month, all participants were asked to complete these measures again.

The researchers then tested a model that used depression severity and anxiety sensitivity measures to predict mindfulness and distress tolerance, which in turn predicted one-month PSU severity and smartphone use frequency, adjusting for sex and age.

The results suggested that mindfulness and distress tolerance are inversely associated with levels of PSU. In other words, students who skilled in coping with negative emotions and who were more attentive to the present moment were less likely to report PSU.

It was also found that distress tolerance mediated relations between anxiety sensitivity and levels of PSU, while mindfulness mediated relations between both depression and anxiety sensitivity with PSU severity.

“People with less ability to endure emotional distress, and people who use less mindful awareness to regulate emotion, had greater severity of problematic smartphone use. The ability to regulate emotion may be an important variable to help offset problematic use of technology,” Elhai said.

However, the study has some limitations, according to researchers.  First, the study sample was limited to college students. Second, researchers used self-report measures, rather than interview-based diagnostic measures.

Last month, a study carried out by the psychologists from the University of Derby and Nottingham Trent University had also suggested that individuals who are less resilient and emotionally stable are more likely to be addicted to their smartphones. In this study, researchers surveyed 640 smartphone users in the age group 13-69.

According to Dr. Zaheer Hussain, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Derby, people experiencing depression, stress, anxiety, and family problems are emotionally unstable and might seek respite in very excessive smartphone use.

“With 4.23 billion smartphones being used around the world, smartphone use has become a necessity in the lives of many individuals,” said Dr. Hussain.

“Problematic smartphone use is more complex than previously thought and our research has highlighted the interplay of various psychological factors in the study of smartphone use.”