Information and communications technology and its tools, especially mobile phones, are a part of this generation’s reality and are so pervasive that they would not be fading out any time soon. Despite the numerous benefits it provides, there are now concerns about how its use can affect one’s health.Research has focused on germs, traffic accidents, cancer, electromagnetic radiation, and health effects such as changes in brain activity and sleep patterns, but there is increasing focus on how it affects mental health. There is also the concern about why many seem so attached to their mobile phones to the point of it seeming like an addiction. For this set of people, misplace or loss of the phone, loss of reception or a dead battery could spell anxiety, desperation, panic and other emotional symptoms. In fact, the fear and emotional distress experienced has become so widespread that in psychological circles, it has been deemed a phobia – Nomophobia.
Experts say the characteristics of nomophobia are a considerably decreased number of face-to-face interactions with humans, and a growing preference for communication through technologies; keeping the device in reach when sleeping and never turned off; looking at the phone screen frequently to avoid missing any message, phone call, or notification; obsessively checking a mobile phone and using a mobile phone to avoid feelings of discomfort, anguish, or stress. To show the severity of this addiction, in the 2014 edition of the journal, Psychology Research and Behavior Management, psychologists recommend cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy combined with pharmacological intervention for the treatment of this phobia.
A recent research discovery has also shown that young adults who make particularly heavy use of mobile phones and computers run a greater risk of sleep disturbances, stress and symptoms of mental illness. Sara Thomée from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and her research colleagues at the University of Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska Academy conducted four different studies looking at how the use of computers and mobile phones affects the mental health of young adults and their findings have pointed out the need for moderation in the use of these technological devices.
The studies, which included questionnaires for 4,100 people aged 20-24 and interviews with 32 young heavy ICT users, revealed that intensive use of mobile phones and computers can be linked to stress, sleep disorders and depressive symptoms.
They also discovered that frequently using a computer or phone without breaks also increases the risk of stress, sleeping problems and depressive symptoms in women, whereas men who use computers intensively are more likely to develop sleeping problems. “Regularly using a computer or phone late at night is associated not only with sleep disorders but also with stress and depressive symptoms in both men and women,” says Thomée.
In addition, medical experts have also added that headaches, irritability/anger and some common mental symptoms such as lack of concentration and anxiety trail heavy users of mobile phones. This was published in the July-September issue of the International Journal of Medical Research and Health Sciences where the researchers confirmed that the younger generation, who are the most frequent cell phone users, needs to be aware about the adverse health effects of cell phone usage especially the mental aspects and take preventive measures to minimise and control the same.
The question that then arises is why many are so attached to their phones. Psychologists Henry Wilmer and Jason Chein of Temple University in the US in a study published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review provide insight on this. Their research findings shed light on the reasons why some people are so attached to their smartphones and mobile technology, while others are less so.
Ninety-one undergraduate students completed a battery of questionnaires and cognitive tests. They indicated how much time they spent using their phones for social media purposes, to post public status updates, and to simply check their devices. Each student’s tendency to delay gratification in favour of larger, later rewards (their so-called intertemporal preference) was also assessed. They were given hypothetical choices between a smaller sum of money offered immediately or a larger sum to be received at a later time. Participants also completed tasks that assessed their ability to control their impulses. Finally, participants’ tendencies to pursue rewarding stimuli were also assessed.
The results provide evidence that people who constantly check and use their mobile devices throughout the day are less apt to delay gratification.
“Mobile technology habits, such as frequent checking, seem to be driven most strongly by uncontrolled impulses and not by the desire to pursue rewards,” says Wilmer, who adds that the findings provide correlational evidence that increased use of portable electronic devices is associated with poor impulse control and a tendency to devalue delayed rewards.
“The findings provide important insights regarding the individual difference factors that relate to technology engagement,” adds Chein. “These findings are consistent with the common perception that frequent smartphone use goes hand in hand with impatience and impulsivity.”
Mr Kayode Adebayo, psychologist however says, “all things when misused or abused can lead to problems. The same is for mobile phones. One cannot say you should stop using your mobile phones but it should not consume one’s whole time and attention. You shouldn’t use your phones to the point of isolation from your physical environment. Social media are there to help us keep in touch but it should not take the place of physical interaction. Take some time out and give yourself an occasional break. In fact, you should create time to unplug – turn off your phone and focus on your surroundings and human relationships.”