A digital detox does not improve wellbeing, say psychologists

A study into the effectiveness of 'digital detoxes', led by Dr Thom Wilkinson of Loughborough University, suggests that a temporary smartphone abstinence has no impact on mood and anxiety.

The study, led by Dr Thom Wilcockson of Loughborough University, asked participants to place their phone in a secure sealed bag for 24 hours with a request not to open it. 

In a small sample of smartphone users, psychologists measured three variables -mood, anxiety, and craving- on four occasions, which included a 24-hour period of smartphone abstinence.

Only craving was affected following this brief period of abstinence, but it had no impact on mood and anxiety. 

Dr Wilcockson, of the University’s School of Sports, Exercise and Health Sciences, said: “The craving results indicate that, as expected, people enjoy using their smartphones and miss them when they are unavailable. However, our results indicate that it may be inappropriate to consider smartphones in the same framework as behavioural addictions as we found little evidence that they meet important behavioural addiction criteria.”

Dr David Ellis, a lecturer in Computational Social Science at Lancaster University, added: “The growing popularity of ‘digital detoxes’ has been encouraged by claims that removing oneself from technology can help reduce stress and improve well-being. However, our results suggest that a short-term digital detox from your smartphone is unlikely to provide any health benefits.”

The study, published in Addictive Behaviours, was led by Dr Thomas Wilcockson, formerly of Lancaster University and now at Loughborough University, with Lancaster University’s Dr David Ellis and Mr Ashley Osborne of the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.