Decades of Internet Impact on Global Well-Being and Mental Health Defy Conventional Wisdom

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Over the past twenty years, there has been a modest and inconsistent shift in global well-being and mental health, as revealed by a recent investigation conducted by Professor Andrew Przybylski of the Oxford Internet Institute and Assistant Professor Matti Vuorre from Tilburg University, who also works as a Research Associate at the Oxford Internet Institute.

The comprehensive paper, titled ‘Global Well-Being and Mental Health in the Internet Age,’ is expected to be published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science. Despite widespread assumptions about the impact of the internet on psychological health, a study released on November 28th by the Oxford Internet Institute demonstrated that the connections between internet usage and mental health are predominantly inconsequential, at best.

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Despite examining information from two million individuals aged 15 to 89 across 168 countries, the research team uncovered only faint and feeble links. These findings run counter to the presupposition that the internet might be a major contributor to severe psychological distress.

Professor Przybylski commented, “We scrutinized extensively for a ‘smoking gun’ linking technology and well-being, and we came up empty-handed.” The team subjected their findings to a more rigorous examination to identify any overlooked factors. They did find a marginal association, where increased mobile broadband adoption was linked to greater life satisfaction, though the practical significance of this association was deemed negligible.

Professor Vuorre added, “We delved into the most extensive data on well-being and internet adoption ever considered, spanning both time and population demographics. While we couldn’t establish causal effects of internet use, our descriptive results suggested minimal and inconsistent connections.”

Thus far, filtering internet users based on age and gender has not revealed any demographic predispositions, such as gender-specific vulnerabilities. Interestingly, female life satisfaction exhibited more substantial gains than the average for the countries studied.

Professor Przybylski emphasized, “We rigorously examined whether age or gender played a significant role, but there is no evidence supporting popular notions that specific groups are more vulnerable.”

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In this investigation, the researchers juxtaposed two distinct datasets on well-being and mental health against per capita internet users and mobile broadband subscriptions and usage in various countries. The second study incorporated data on anxiety, depression, and self-harm rates from 2000 to 2019 across over 200 countries, analyzing their correlations with internet adoption.

Local interviewers conducted surveys in respondents’ native languages, and well-being was evaluated through face-to-face and phone surveys. Mental health statistics, encompassing depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and self-harm, measured the burden on 200+ countries from 2000 to 2019, using comprehensive health data from World Health Organization member states.

Nevertheless, the researchers underscore the need for more data to definitively establish whether internet use has any discernible impacts. The research also asserted, “Studies on the effects of internet technologies face obstacles because crucial data are kept confidential by technology companies and online platforms.”