Depressed people who turn to their smartphones for relief could be worsening their psychological condition, say scientists, including one of Indian-origin.
A team of researchers, that included Prabu David, the dean of Michigan State University's College of Communication Arts and Sciences, found that people who substitute electronic interaction for the real-life human kind find little if any satisfaction. In fact, using a mobile phone for temporary relief from negative emotions could worsen psychological conditions and spiral into unregulated and problematic use of mobile phones, or PUMP, said David.
"The research bears out that despite all the advances we've made, there is still a place for meaningful, face-to-face interaction," he said. "The mobile phone can do a range of things that simulate human interaction. It seduces us into believing it's real, but the fact remains it's still synthetic," he added.
Lead author Jung-Hyun Kim, with Sogang University, Seoul, South Korea, said the study shows that face-to-face interaction can buffer the negative effects of heavy mobile phone use. "Engaging in more face-to-face interaction can work as an antidote to the development of problematic mobile phone use," Kim said.
The researchers examined two pathways for habitual use of a smartphone: To either pass the time or entertain, or to alleviate feelings of sadness or depression by seeking out others. It's the second reason, David said, that can cause trouble.
"This suggests that problematic use of mobile phone is fuelled in part by the purposeful or deliberate use of the mobile phone to relieve or alleviate negative feelings whereas habitual or ritualistic use to pass time is not strongly associated with it," he said.
David and the researchers said that using a mobile phone in moderation - to stay in touch with family or friends, for example - is not a bad thing but it should not replace real human interaction. The study was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.