More than one in three young adults report symptoms of ‘smartphone addiction’, regardless of how long they use their phones every day, according to a study.

As we increasingly rely on our smartphones there has been growing concern around excessive and potentially harmful use, especially in young women. Although smartphone addiction is not formally recognised as a clinical diagnosis, it is the subject of active research using a validated tool called the “smartphone addiction scale”.

Researchers at King’s College London said their study, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, is the first in the UK to examine phone addiction using this tool and results from more than 1,043 survey responses showed that 406 (38.9 per cent) met the criteria for ‘smartphone addiction’, reporting behaviours such as losing control over how long they spend, distress when they cannot access their phone and neglecting other more meaningful parts of their life.

More than two thirds of this group (68.7 per cent) reported poor sleep compared with those without smartphone addiction (57.1 per cent), showing that screen time should not be the only indicator of harmful use considered.  Nearly one in four (24.7 per cent) used their phone for three hours a day while 18.5 per cent used their phone for more than five hours a day.

Samantha Sohn, lead author at KCL’s institute of psychology, psychiatry & neuroscience (IoPPN) said: “Smartphones are increasingly becoming indispensable parts of our daily lives, and this study is an important step in looking at their impact in terms of dysfunctional use and on sleep in a UK population.”

Am I a smartphone addict?

Answer between 1 (strongly disagree) and 6 (strongly agree)

1. I regularly miss planned work due to smartphone use

2. I have a hard time concentrating in class or at work due to smartphone use

3. My smartphone is on my mind even when I’m not using it

4. I am constantly checking my smartphone so as not to miss conversations between other people on Facebook, WhatsApp or WeChat

5. I feel impatient and fretful when I am not holding my smartphone

The higher your score the greater likelihood you are a “smartphone addict”. The original smartphone addiction scale, first published in Korean, contains 33 items assessing “daily life disturbance,” “positive anticipation,” “withdrawal,” “cyberspace-oriented relationship,” “overuse,” and “tolerance” symptoms of problematic smartphone use.

The paper is the latest, among many, to study so called ‘smartphone addiction’, a condition which is not recognised by any global health body and is not a psychiatric disorder.

Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute, said: “The authors repeatedly claim the measures of ‘smartphone addiction’ are validated but this claim is tenuous at best. This is confusing because those who study technology ‘addictions’ do not validate scales using clinical samples or conduct the kinds of studies required to establish ideas like ‘smart phone addiction’ as a valid concept. Instead the repeated use of scales is assumed to be evidence of validation.”

Dr Bob Patton, a lecturer in clinical psychology at the University of Surrey, said: “As the authors point out, this is a cross-sectional study, and as such cannot lead to any firm conclusions about phone usage as the cause of reduced sleep quality, it does however provide some compelling evidence that the nature of smart phone usage and its related consequences are important considerations in addressing the emerging phenomenon of ‘smartphone addiction’.”



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