Oxford Study Details The Internet's Effect On Mental Health With Interesting Results

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A massive long-term study involving millions of people across 168 countries has found that internet adoption shows no evidence of affecting overall psychological well-being. The researchers initially thought there would be a strong link between the internet and mental health harm, but ultimately determined it didn't move the needle to be statistically significant.

Carrying out the detailed study was Professor Andrew Przybylski, Oxford Internet Institute and Assistant Professor Matti Vuorre, Tilburg University and Research Associate, Oxford Internet Institute. It collected data from two million individuals between 2005 to 2022 from 168 countries, ranging in gender and age (15 to 89 years old), taking into account internet use and mobile broadband statistics of each country.

More specifically, the study involved two parts—a first one studied the well-being and mental health against the countries’ per capita internet users and mobile broadband use, while a second study measured rates of anxiety, depression, and self-harm from 2000-2019 in some 200 countries, and analyzed their associations with internet adoption

During that time, the duo was expecting to find a "smoking gun" linking technology and mental health, but didn't find it. Professor Przybylski stated that they "meticulously tested whether there is anything special in terms of age or gender, but there is no evidence to support popular ideas that certain groups are more at risk.’ In some instances, in fact, the results even demonstrated that for the average country, life satisfaction had gone up for female internet users.

Even when the data was placed under more extreme scrutiny (just in case they missed something), Przybylski and Vuorre did note that mobile broadband use predicted better life satisfaction, even if the numbers were too small to be of practical significance. 

However, the team believes that their study could benefit from usage data collected by technology companies (e.g. Google, Meta, etc.), which can reveal the impacts of what users do and behave on those platforms. Of course, such information are behind lock and key, inaccessible to independent research.

If you're up for a good read, you can download the full paper.