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Is smartphone use becoming more problematic?

A recent study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry determined the overall health effects of smartphone use in Australia.


The past decade has shown a dramatic increase in the use of smartphones. It is estimated that 2.5 billion people use smartphones worldwide. In 2017, 64% of the United States population owned smartphones. Currently, in Australia, 88% of the population owns smartphones.

Smartphones keep us connected, well-informed, readily available, and so much more. Although there are varying benefits to smartphones, there are also negative aspects. This includes unhealthy attachments to and reliability on smartphones. The negative effects of smartphones include disconnected real-life relationships and sedentary behaviour.

Studying the overall effects of smartphone use

In a study published by Frontiers in Psychiatry, researchers studied the effects of smartphones. They compared trends of smartphone use in 2005 and 2018, and determined if the use of smartphones has impacted road safety in Australia. This study took place in Australia and all data refers to the Australian population. The participants’ ages ranged from 18-83, with a total number of 709 participants in this study. Most participants were between the ages of 56-65.

This study used the 27-item Mobile Phone Problem Use Scale (MPPUS). This tool helped researchers see if participants used smartphones for distraction, whether or not they had a hard time turning their smartphones off, possible experiences of smartphone withdrawals, and more.

The MPPUS also gave researchers an insight into how often participants used their smartphones. Researchers also searched for findings related to smartphone use while driving a vehicle. They took this information and performed an exploratory factorial analysis – a technique that allowed them to analyze data just as 2005 data was analyzed.

They placed participants into one of four categories:

  1. Occasional phone user
  2. Regular phone user
  3. Later possibility of becoming a problematic phone user
  4. Problematic phone user

When studying smartphone use while driving, researchers categorized participants as either normal phone users or problematic phone users.

Females are more likely to use smartphones and pay more for phone bills than males  

They found that individuals between 18-24 years old (40.9%) were more likely to use their smartphones than participants’ aged 25-59 (23.5%) or 60 years and above (3.2%). Problematic smartphone use was shown more in younger participants than in older participants.

The results showed that females are likelier to use their smartphones (females: 24.1%, males: 15.4%) and spend more money on their phone bills. Females were also more likely to use their smartphones socially, while males were more likely to use their phones for business matters. Participants in university or who were working toward finishing a degree had a higher smartphone prevalence rate than participants of other education levels.

Participants would rather use smartphones than face day-to-day issues

Australian participants also reported feeling lost without their smartphones in 2018. Due to the usage increase since 2005, participants claimed to have experienced poor sleep from being on their phones.

They also discovered that some participants would rather use their smartphone (mainly those aged 18-25 and 26-35) than face day-to-day issues. Most people felt that if they did not have a smartphone, it would be harder for their friends to contact them. Both males and females (but mostly males) claimed that using their smartphones negatively affected their productivity. It was found that anxiety, depression, and stress were linked to smartphone use in Australia in 2018.

Many individuals use smartphones while driving

Moreover, more participants used their smartphones hands-free than hand-held while driving. When it came to hands-free smartphone use, 68% of participants claimed to have texted and 62% had phone conversations while driving. When it came to hand-held smartphone use, 46% of participants claimed to have looked at their smartphones for two seconds or more, and 42% claimed to have actually completed a hand-held task while driving.

If a participant said to have used a hand-held smartphone while driving, they were categorized as a problematic smartphone user. Former studies have shown that if you use a handheld smartphone while driving, you are 3.6 times more likely to experience a car accident.

Limitations of this study included the gathering of results; participants self-reported their smartphone usage, so there could have been some misjudgements. Further studies on the effects of smartphones should rely on precise data collection by using a monitor.

Written by Laura Laroche, HBASc, Medical Writer


  1. Oviedo-Trespalacios, Oscar, et al. “Problematic Use of Mobile Phones in Australia… Is it Getting Worse?” Frontiers in Psychiatry. Mar 12. 2019. 1-15. Online.
  2. ‘Technoference’: We’re more tired & less productive because of our phones. 2019,, assessed 28 Mar. 2019.


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