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expert reaction to study on ‘smartphone addiction’ and sleep

A study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry looks at association between ‘smartphone addiction’ and sleep in the UK.


Dr Bob Patton, Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, University of Surrey, said:

“This study presents the results of a large cross-sectional survey on Smartphone usage and sleep among students aged between 18-30 years attending a large London university. No detail is given regarding the wider population, or the number of potential participants that declined to take part and therefore it is unclear the extent to which the results can be generalised. While there is no formal clinical diagnosis of Smartphone Addiction, the authors have used a validated measure that explored respondents perceived consequences of their Smartphone use, which is a much better measure of addiction than screen time alone.

“The study makes an important observation that it is the consequences rather than the duration of phone use that is linked to both related harm and reduced sleep quality, which could help clinicians to identify those who may need further help and support.

“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’.”


Professor Andrew Przybylski, Associate Professor, Senior Research Fellow and Director of Research, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, said:

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

“The study is a correlational analysis of a sample of participants recruited on university campuses and therefore only reflects the experiences of those who had the purpose of the study explained to them, it can say nothing about behaviours in the general population.

“The stated statistics, based on a non-representative sample is meaningless and its framing as ‘prevalence of smartphone addiction’ might lead readers to believe things they ought not to about those who are unhappy with their smartphone usage.

“While the paper describes ‘smartphone addiction was more prevalent among younger participants’ it would be substantial overreach to say this is relevant to the general population in light of the lack of representativeness of the sample and the narrow age range.

“There are many unfounded conclusions such as ‘willingness amongst younger generations to adopt newer uses for smartphones (e.g., gaming, social media), which may confer greater risk of addiction’. Readers should be cautious of making any firm conclusions about the impact of smart phone use in the general population, or the idea that they’re addictive in any objective sense, on the basis of this work.”



‘The association between smartphone addiction and sleep: a UK cross-sectional study of young adults’ by Sei Yon Sohn et al. was published in Frontiers in Psychiatry at 05:00 UK time on Tuesday 2 March.

doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.629407



Declared interests

Prof Andrew Przybylski: “My work is supported by grants provided by the Huo Family Foundation and the Economic and Social Research Council.”

None others received.

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