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Description: I posted recently about a new welcome line of research that has started to look more closely at the issue of screen time and its potential negative (AND positive) effects of development, mental health and well-being. What was not clear in the post, or in the article it linked to, was why the large data-set research that has been done looking at the impact of screen time on mental health and well-being among adolescent and emerging adults does not seem to give us a useful picture of the effects of screen time. This can be difficult to understand as, in discussing Psychological research methodology and statistical issues we often point to the importance of sample size and to the value of population level research that is potentially more truly representative of Psychological realities than small sample studies. Studies looking at screen time effects on mental health and well-being that involved thousands and thousands of adolescents and emerging adults should produce definitive results, right? Weeell, maybe not. One issue is simply that such studies often do not ask enough detailed questions of their respondents for us to properly understand what people’s screen time involves. That is the point I discussed in my previous post of this topic.  In addition, though, there is another issue to consider (which is the one often hardest to get one’s head around) and it involves the fact that population studies with thousands of respondents typically also involve a great many questions. If you are going to spend a LOT of time and money surveying a LOT of people you certainly want to ask more than a few questions (so as to get your money’s worth). Think about what sorts of conceptual and statistical problems this many questions issue might contribute to and then read the article linked below for a very well written overview of just this issue as it relates to population level screen time research.

Source: Is Screen Time Really Bad for Kids? Kim Tingley, Studies Show, New York Times Magazine.

Date: December 18, 2019

Photo Credit: Ori Toor, New York Times Magazine

Article Link:

It takes a bit of work to get one’s head around the main points of the article, but they are important and worth the effort. Basically, when we access large archival datasets that were constructed by asking a LOT of people ma LOT of questions we need to keep in mind that while we can investigate a great many possible questions or hypotheses within such data sets we are also fishing somewhat. Fishing not for fish but for significant relationships and large datasets make small differences statistically significant and asking many many possible questions also increases the chances that some thigs will seem significant by chance along. This does not mean that such large data set studies are not helpful as they can show us many important possibilities that can be addressed in more focused manners in subsequent research. The most important issue is the matter of effect size or of just how big, or not so big, a deal a statistically significant result may actually be given the number of questions asked in the survey.  That, an, of course, there is debate about just how one should “control” for the number of questions asked in large scale survey studies. As in all things more research is needed but population studies can be good places to start, they are just not the final word on things like the effects of screen time.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are some advantages of large sample or population survey studies into things relating to development, mental health and well-being?
  2. What are some of the statistical and methodological issues with population survey studies into things relating to development, mental health and well-being?
  3. What would you see as a logical or “proper” investigative plan for working towards a better understanding of some of the population survey research looking at the negative impact of screen time among adolescents and emerging adults?

References (Read Further):

Pew Reseseach Center (2018) Teens, Social Media and Technology: 2018.

Twenge, J. M., Joiner, T. E., Rogers, M. L., & Martin, G. N. (2018). Increases in depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes, and suicide rates among US adolescents after 2010 and links to increased new media screen time. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 3-17.,5&scillfp=16637530904598992641&oi=lle

Orben, A., & Przybylski, A. K. (2019). The association between adolescent well-being and digital technology use. Nature Human Behaviour, 3(2), 173.

National Institute of Drug Abuse (2019) Monitoring the Future

Jensen, M., George, M. J., Russell, M. R., & Odgers, C. L. (2019). Young adolescents’ digital technology use and mental health symptoms: Little evidence of longitudinal or daily linkages. Clinical Psychological Science, 7(6), 1416-1433.,5&scillfp=14636464069949876004&oi=lle