Latest developments in causes and treatments



Which Came First — Loneliness or Smartphone Addiction? 

Researchers around the world have discovered something interesting in the relationship between people and their smartphones. It appears that excessive smartphone use might increase feelings of loneliness and that feelings of loneliness might increase smartphone use.

A massive study involving 1,527 college students at 16 universities across China was just published in Scientific Reports. The data collected attempted to measure three variables:

  1. the level of smartphone use
  2. self-reported feelings of loneliness
  3. self-reported feelings of well-being

Participants were rated using the Smartphone Addiction Tendency Scale which looks at “withdrawal symptoms, salience, social comfort and mood changes.” The findings were not ambiguous. They showed:

A significant negative correlation existed between smartphone addiction and subjective well-being among university students, coupled with a significant positive correlation between smartphone addiction and loneliness, indicating the significant negative predictive effect of smartphone addiction on subjective well-being.

The researchers further state that “the higher the degree of smartphone addiction, the lower the subjective well-being.” The discussion portion of the paper outlines the authors’ theories of the path from excessive smartphone use to loneliness to lower subjective well-being: 

Smartphone addiction, being a habitual behavior developed through prolonged repetition, often correlates with unhealthy habits such as staying up late, lack of outdoor activities, fostering anxiety, depression, and other psychological issues. This adversely affects both physical and mental health, resulting in reduced quality of life and lower subjective well-being.

In 2021, a meta-analysis and systematic review of the association between internet addiction (IA) and loneliness was published in the scientific journal, Social Science & Medicine — Population Health. In total, the studies they reviewed involved 16,496 participants. The authors summarized their findings this way: “There was a significant association between IA and loneliness.”

The studies also showed a “linear association” between internet addiction and loneliness: the greater the addiction, the greater the loneliness.

Finally, an incredible international study involving researchers from Finland, South Africa and the U.S.A. sought to correlate loneliness with excessive smartphone use, excessive alcohol use, and excessive gambling. The study involved approximately 1,200 participants from each country aged 15 to 25. The result found a positive correlation only between loneliness and excessive smartphone use. “Experiencing loneliness is consistently linked to compulsive internet use across countries.”

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published March 11, 2024.


“The mediating role of loneliness in the relationship between smartphone addiction and subjective well-being,” Scientific Reports, February 23, 2024.

“Association between internet addiction and loneliness across the world: A meta-analysis and systematic review,” Social Science & Medicine — Population Health, December 2021.

“The Role of Perceived Loneliness in Youth Addictive Behaviors: Cross-National Survey Study,” JMIR Mental Health, January 2020.

Image Copyright: irinapodoplelova.


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