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Overuse of smartphones alters your brain, decreasing sensitivity of leisure reward centers


(NaturalNews) People who overuse smartphones get less enjoyment out of their leisure time, according to a study conducted by researchers from Kent State University and published online in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

"In our previously published research, we found that high-frequency cell phone users often described feeling obligated to remain constantly connected to their phones," researcher Jacob Barkley, PhD, said. "This obligation was described as stressful, and the present study suggests the stress may be spilling over into their leisure."

The findings are particularly significant given that young adults are most likely to use their smartphones for entertainment purposes, rather than for work or school. This means that smartphones may be degrading the very time that they are most often used to fill.

Less phone use, better leisure

The researchers surveyed 454 college students to help determine their daily smartphone use, daily leisure experience and personality traits. Analysis of the data showed that the students fell into three distinct groups: people with high smartphone usage, low-use extroverts and low-use introverts.

About 25 percent of participants were classified as "high-use," averaging more than 10 hours of smartphone use per day. In terms of their leisure experience, these students were more similar to each other than to people with less smartphone usage but more similar personalities.

Members of the high-use group experienced significantly more "leisure distress" than those with low smartphone use (an average of about 3 hours per day). "Leisure distress" is defined as feeling anxious, stressed or uptight during one's free time.

In contrast, low-use extroverts had very low levels of leisure distress or boredom, and were the group most likely to seek out challenging activities during leisure time.

"The high-frequency cell phone user may not have the leisure skills necessary to creatively fill their free time with intrinsically rewarding activities," researcher Andrew Lepp, PhD, said. "For such people, the ever-present smartphone may provide an easy, but less satisfying and more stressful, means of filling their time."

The researchers emphasized that there were weaknesses in the study design, such as its reliance on self-reports and the fact that it was only designed to uncover correlation, not causation. However, the findings form an important starting point for further study.

"Although this study was not designed to assess cause and effect, the relationships identified are important to reflect upon," researcher Jian Li, PhD, said. "Being constantly connected to your phone is not likely to enhance your experience of leisure. On the other hand, disconnecting for short periods of time in order to seek more challenging leisure opportunities is likely to be beneficial."

Phones also damage fitness, sleep

The study is only one of the latest to link heavy cell phone use with worsened health. In a 2013 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Barkley and other Kent State researchers found that students who spent the most time on their phones (an average of 14 hours per day) were less physically fit than students who spent the least time on them (an average of 90 minutes per day). This suggests that, in spite of phones' mobility, they contribute to a sedentary lifestyle in a similar way to television and other "screen-based" activities.

Another study, conducted by researchers from Michigan State University and published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes in January 2014, found that employees who used their smartphones to get extra work done at home got worse sleep and were actually less productive at the office the following day.

"Smartphones are almost perfectly designed to disrupt sleep," researcher Russell Johnson said. "Because they keep us mentally engaged late into the evening, they make it hard to detach from work so we can relax and fall asleep."

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