Real-world study from Koa Health finds context is key factor in how smartphone use impacts wellbeing

Koa Health
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  • Findings suggest that previous studies may have overestimated the negative impact of screen time
  • Results emphasize the importance of context and individual circumstance
  • Screen time was seen to improve wellbeing when smartphones were used to stay in touch with friends and family, to listen to music, or to facilitate learning, relaxation techniques, and exercise
  • Researchers followed 352 participants over 15,607 instances of smartphone use to gather data around the impact of screen time on users’ wellbeing in different daily contexts

Barcelona, 22 June 2023: New research from Koa Health, a leading global provider of digital mental health care, suggests that the link between screen time and subjective wellbeing is heavily dependent on context and individual circumstances. The study, published in PLOS ONE, suggests that the negative association between screen time and subjective wellbeing is dependent on context, such as where, why, how, and in whose company people use their devices and when this information was incorporated into analysis, the negative association between screen time and wellbeing disappeared. Study participants reported improved wellbeing when using their smartphones for their original purpose (to stay in touch with friends and family), to listen to music, or to help with relaxation, learning, or exercise.

However, according to users, games and social media both improved and worsened wellbeing depending on the individual and their unique context. Finally, users also reported worse wellbeing when their smartphones enabled their work lives to invade their personal and social lives via work messages after hours.

Dr. Aleksandar Matic, Research and Development Director at Koa Health, said, “In the end, smartphones are a tool. Like most tools, they aren’t inherently good or bad —it’s how we engage with them that truly shapes their impact on our lives.”

Dr. Anna Mandeville, UK Clinical Director, Koa Health, said, “As a therapist and clinical director, and a parent, I’ve seen first-hand the potential of smartphones to support and damage peoples’ mental health. But in the right context, I believe tech-enabled care—facilitated via apps and smartphones—can help people learn better-coping strategies, relax, and access the support they need when they need it."

Dr. Oliver Harrison, CEO of Koa Health, said, “As a psychiatrist and the father of two young girls, I can attest to the benefits and pitfalls of smartphone use—not all screen time is created equal. However, I’ve seen time and time again the benefits of providing people with access to the right mental health tech at the right time, empowering them to get help sooner and in ways that feel comfortable to them.”

Note to editor:

This real-world study followed 352 participants over three weeks and 15,607 instances of smartphone use in their daily lives, automatically gathering screentime data from smartphone sensors and rich contextual information, such as activities, location, and company, through Ecological Momentary Assessments delivered 5 times daily. This data was further supplemented by insights from a qualitative survey exploring the relationship between screen time and two key elements of mental wellbeing—pleasure/happiness and worthwhileness/purpose.


About Koa Health

Koa Health is a leading digital platform for workplace mental health, helping business leaders care for high-performing teams across the full continuum of mental health. Koa offers personalized solutions with proven user outcomes, from improving mental wellbeing to supporting treatment for a range of common mental disorders. Backed by investors including Telefónica, Ancora Finance Group, and Wellington Partners, Koa Health leverages technology and research to enable people to change their behaviors with effective and accessible support that adapts to their unique circumstances.

Headquartered in the Netherlands, Koa Health has operations in Barcelona, the US and the UK. Koa Health partners with leading clinicians and academics, including Massachusetts General Hospital, University College of London, the London School of Economics, and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust.

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