Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Technology offers the promise to make life easier. This has been the promise for years, but according to research released this week, some technology could actually be impacting the health of its users, especially when used in excess.
On Tuesday, researchers at Michigan State University released the findings of a study that suggested using multiple forms of media at the same time — such as playing a computer game while watching TV — could be linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression.
This is reportedly the first time scientists have found this link.
MSU´s Mark Becker, the lead investigator on the study, said he was surprised to find this link between multitasking and mental health problems, but as of yet the exact cause is not clear.
“We don´t know whether the media multitasking is causing symptoms of depression and social anxiety, or if it´s that people who are depressed and anxious are turning to media multitasking as a form of distraction from their problems,” said Becker, assistant professor of psychology.
What is clear is that media use — in the form of mobile phones and digital music players as well as radios, TVs, computers and other devices — is on the rise. According to the researchers, media use among American youth has increased some 20 percent in the past decade.
Moreover the youth aren´t just using one device at a time. Over the past decade, the amount of time spent multitasking, where multiple devices are used — such as a computer and music player or game system and TV — have increased by 120 percent. Young people are doing more with media devices, and they´re doing it at the same time.
The study, which appeared in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, looked at the usage of media from 319 people who were surveyed and reported on their use and mental health. The study asked how many hours per week the respondents used two or more of the primary forms of media — which included TV, music device, mobile phone, text messaging, computer and video games, computer for web surfing or other entertainment.
In regards to mental health the survey looked to well-established measures, but it was noted that the results did not actually reflect any clinical diagnosis. Despite this latter fact, Becker maintained that future research should explore the cause and effect, and determine whether and even why multitasking with digital devices could be leading to increased depression and/or anxiety.
Becker noted that should the research indicate that the multitasking is causing depression or anxiety, then recommendations could be made to alleviate it as a problem. Future studies could also look into whether it isn´t the multitasking that is making the respondents depressed or causing their anxiety, but whether those who are already depressed or anxious may be opting to media multitask to deal with the problems.
It was also suggested that multitasking with digital devices could be a warning sign that the user is becoming depressed or anxious.
“Whatever the case, it´s very important information to have,” Becker added. “This could have important implications for understanding how to minimize the negative impacts of increased media multitasking.”