Internet use linked to higher wellbeing, study suggests

Across more than 33,000 different statistical models and subsets of data, the researchers found that 84.9% of associations between Internet connectivity and wellbeing were positive. — Unsplash

LONDON: Using the Internet may be good for your wellbeing, an international study has found.

The findings suggest that despite popular concerns to the contrary, the association between Internet use and wellbeing is likely to be positive.

Researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute, part of the University of Oxford, analysed data from two million people aged 15 to 99 in 168 countries, including Latin America, Asia and Africa.

They found that life satisfaction across all countries was 8.5% higher for those who had access to the Internet and their positive experiences were 8.3% higher.

Across more than 33,000 different statistical models and subsets of data, the researchers found that 84.9% of associations between Internet connectivity and wellbeing were positive.

Andrew Przybylski, professor of human behaviour and technology at the Oxford Internet Institute, said: "It's a bit cliche, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

"And if we're to make the online world safer for young people, we just can't go in guns blazing with strong prior beliefs and one-size-fits-all solutions.

"We really need to make sure that we're sensitive to having our minds changed by data, and I really hope that that message comes through instead of just another volley, in another silly debate."

He added that he believed a time would come when people would no longer be worried about social media and Internet use in young people because they would be concerned about the next thing that comes along.

Assistant Professor Matti Vuorre from Tilburg University, and previous research associate at Oxford Internet Institute, said: "We were surprised to find a positive correlation between wellbeing and Internet use across the majority of the thousands of models we used for our analysis."

In the study, wellbeing was measured according to eight indicators – life satisfaction, daily negative and positive experiences, two measures of social wellbeing (wellbeing attached to liking where you live and feeling safe there), physical wellbeing, community wellbeing and experiences of purpose.

Factors like education, income and health were also taken into consideration, however, the study did not look at social media use.

Prof Przybylski said: "Overall we found that average associations were consistent across Internet adoption predictors and wellbeing outcomes, with those who had access to or actively used the Internet reporting meaningfully greater wellbeing than those who did not.

"We hope our findings bring some greater context to the screen time debate, however further work is still needed in this important area.

"We urge platform providers to share their detailed data on user behaviour with social scientists working in this field for transparent and independent scientific enquiry, to enable a more comprehensive understanding of Internet technologies in our daily lives."

In the study, published in the American Psychological Association's Technology, Mind And Behaviour journal, the researchers used data from the Gallup World Poll, from 2,414,294 people from 168 countries, from 2006-2021.

The poll assessed wellbeing with face-to-face and phone surveys which included questions like "Does your home have access to the Internet?", and asked about positive or negative experiences and life satisfaction.

Whilst the associations between Internet access and use for the average country were consistently positive, the researchers did find some variation by gender and wellbeing.

They found that 4.9% of associations linking Internet use and community wellbeing were negative, with most of those observed among women aged 15 to 24 years old. – dpa

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