Does objectively-measured social media or smartphone use predict depression, anxiety, or social isolation among young adults?


Despite a plethora of research, the link between digital-technology use and psychological distress among young adults remains inconclusive. Findings in this area are typically undermined by methodological limitations related to measurement, study design, and statistical analysis. Addressing these limitations, we examined the prospective, withinpersons associations between three aspects of objectively measured digital-technology use (duration and frequency of smartphone use, duration of social-media use) and three aspects of psychological distress (depression, anxiety, and social isolation) among a sample of young adults (N = 384). Across 81 different model specifications, we found that most within-persons prospective effects between digital-technology use and psychological distress were statistically nonsignificant, and all were very small—even the largest effects were unlikely to register a meaningful impact on a person’s psychological distress. In post hoc subgroup analyses, we found scant evidence for the claim that digitaltechnology use is more harmful for women and/or younger people.

Clinical Psychological Science