The Pointless Pseudoscience Of Young People And Screen Time

Social science is a weird one. It gives you so many good headlines, but not that much substance.

The most recent big topic seems to be people being glued to their screens, and the damage it seems to be having. As a bit of a screen-based nerd myself (to say the least), this definitely caught my attention, and gave me a convenient opportunity to talk about this strange side of science.

It strikes me as familiar to the explosion in number of studies into smoking, back in the 60s. For every study looking at the damaging properties of cigarettes, there was another piece of research showing the positives of this addiction (usually paid for by tobacco companies/lobbyists themselves).

With one study in favour of screen time, you’ve got another about how one hour a day causes emotional instability. One for The Guardian paired with one for The Daily Mail.

Now, I’m not saying these studies are being funded by tech/video game companies at all, but when you look that one step beyond the findings of each study, you start to see what I will name “micro-biases.”

Let’s take Andrew K. Przybylski, Professor and experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford. He wrote the original study that inspired this blog, and he has done some amazing work in this area that I recommend you read if you haven’t heard of him before.

Well, you will also see studies about the “motivating role of violence in video games,” and how “mobile phone communication helps to improve face-to-face communication.” Sometimes in studies, people write for the conclusions they want, and while I 100% agree with every point Andrew makes in his work, in social science like this, it very much comes down to opinion.

So, what on Earth am I trying to say here? This piece has waded into some muddy territory and, much like the mud-filled swamps of Red Dead Redemption 2, I feel fear of having my face ripped off by an Alligator in the form of the comments section down below (strange metaphor, but you get it…hopefully).

The conclusion is a simple request from me to every reader who has ever looked at a sensationalised headline, touting some stat cherry picked from a study to supposedly prove their own hypothesis. Take it with a pinch of salt, and use your common sense.

When it comes to social/psychological science like this, it’s impossible to be 100% accurate, no matter how much the incredibly talented people who run these studies can try to keep things unbiased. 

In the situation of young people and screen time, Andrew and Amy are absolutely right in their results that teens are not damaged by using devices for long periods of time. Alternatively, Jean and William are also correct in their findings, showing that emotional stability can be affected by excessive screen time.

The micro-biases shown in each study is subtly apparent when you look at the context that surrounds this research, but there is a middle ground. In the case of young people and screen time, well that one is simple - use screens, but go outside every once in a while.

Let’s be thankful for one thing, though… At least nobody is claiming screens make your eyes go square anymore.