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Simple smartphone interventions shown to tackle problematic social media use

Simple smartphone interventions can help to reduce time spent on social media and prevent negative health consequences, according to new research by Nottingham Trent University (NTU).

Woman sitting on a windowsill with headphones on and phone in her hands with eyes closed
The research suggests that talking time to do mindfulness exercises on your phone can reduce social networking use

Problematic social networking site use (PSNSU) is widely associated with poor mental health and wellbeing. The study by NTU psychologists examined three accessible and affordable smartphone interventions and their impact on reducing PSNSU, psychiatric disorder symptoms, loneliness, and general health.

Through a six-week randomised control trial, 110 participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a mindfulness group where they were presented with a mindfulness-based exercise which tackles addictive urges; a social networking sites (SNS) intervention group which involved being given brief tips and advice about managing SNS use; or a control group where general health and lifestyle advice was provided.

Participants were provided with instructions, such as focusing on taking deep breaths or scheduling times to stay off social media and were encouraged to use their intervention for two weeks at a time for the six weeks. After each two-week block they completed an online survey consisting of a variety of psychological measures.

Dr Zaheer Hussain, NTU School of Social Sciences

Across all three interventions results showed improvements in general health. Anxiety, and PSNSU levels decreased overtime. While loneliness levels increased from survey one to survey two, they had decreased at survey three across all interventions. Participants psychiatric wellbeing scores also decreased across time.

The findings also suggested that participants may have limited their social media use over the course of study, they may have been more mindful of their behaviour. Furthermore, the interventions may have had an impact on overall social media use and well-being.

The study suggests that parents, educators, and health practitioners can create effective awareness and prevention campaigns which use simple smartphone applications to help users become aware of possible problematic use and to alter their behaviours.

Dr Zaheer Hussain, lead researcher and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, said: “The smartphone interventions we trialled would be useful in clinical settings, but because they were easy to follow and inexpensive, it means that anybody who is finding it difficult to control their social media use can try them out.

“We would particularly recommend that people try mindfulness. We know that mindfulness has many health benefits, and in our study, we showed that a simple mindfulness smartphone intervention could decrease PSNSU and its associated negative health impacts. It’s easy to learn simple mindfulness techniques and apply them in your life.”

Read the full paper online: The feasibility of smartphone interventions to decrease problematic use of social networking sites: A randomised controlled trial

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    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    The Research Excellence Framework (2021) classed 83% of NTU’s research activity as either world-leading or internationally excellent. 86% of NTU’s research impact was assessed to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.

    NTU was awarded The Times and The Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2023 and ranked University of the Year in the Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2023. It was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards), University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is the 5th largest UK institution by student numbers, with approximately 40,000 students and more than 4,400 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 7,000 and an NTU community representing over 160 countries.

    Since 2000, NTU has invested £570 million in tools, technology, buildings and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2021 UCAS UG acceptance data). It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was the first UK university to sign the Social Mobility Pledge.

    NTU is ranked the second most sustainable university in the world in the 2022 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

Published on 3 July 2023
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Social Sciences