Everyone seems to have decided that it’s the phones. That is, they’ve decided that heavy smartphone and social-media use is to blame for the current wave of mental illness, despair, and depression that’s affecting young people - teenage girls in particular.
Except… we need to ask how strong the evidence is. What do the studies actually show about what’s causing the mental health crisis? And, wait - is there actually a mental health crisis to begin with? In this extra-long episode of The Studies Show (it’s a big topic after all), Tom and Stuart attempt to find out.
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Jonathan Haidt’s upcoming book The Anxious Generation
Jean Twenge’s famous Atlantic article, “Have smartphones destroyed a generation?”
Her book iGen
One of Twenge’s studies, which the book is based on: n = 500,000 analysis of depression traits and “new media screen time”
Amy Orben’s critique
Flurry of articles by well-respected writers in 2023 expressing some degree of confidence that “it’s the phones”: John Burn-Murdoch; Noah Smith; Matt Yglesias (though he’s more interested in other reasons)
Haidt’s 2023 article arguing we can now say it’s a cause, not just a correlation - and “a major cause” at that
Chris Ferguson et al.’s 2021 meta-analysis that concludes there’s a lack of evidence to suggest that screen time affects mental health
Przybylski & Vuorre’s 2023 paper - across 168 countries, internet connectivity is correlated with better wellbeing
Orben & Przybylski’s 2019 “specfication curve” paper (the “potatoes” one)
Twenge & Haidt’s own specification curve paper suggesting social media use is a stronger predictor of poor wellbeing than is hard drug use
Dean Eckles criticising the “Facebook arrives at universities” study