An op-ed in the journal Nature by two Stanford professors asserts that much of the research around the effects of “screen time” is inherently flawed because of its reliance on participants’ self-reports of time spent viewing their screens. As one of the op-ed’s authors, Thomas Robinson, notes, there are different varieties of screen time that are capable of producing quite different effects.
To see the problem, consider four adolescents. The first spends three hours a night playing video games and chatting with fellow gamers on Discord. The second spends three hours browsing and posting on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. The third spends three hours passively watching Netflix and YouTube. The fourth never sits down with a device for longer than 20 minutes at a time but gets notifications on their phone every five minutes throughout the day and typically spends only a few seconds or minutes responding to each.
Co-author Byron Reeves (who also co-authored, with Clifford Nass, The Media Equation ) discusses a new research approach that is more invasive but likely to be more informative and reliable. The Medium article by Will Oremus that covers the op-ed is here: