Does your cell phone cause depression?

Andrew’s first pop-quiz about the brightness of TV’s possibly being linked to depression left a great impression on me. As somebody who watches sporting events until very late, I sometimes fall asleep with the television on. I did some research on the internet and found that another troubling piece of technology might be causing us harm. This technology is cell phones.

According to Carolyn Gregoire, phones are a possible cause of depression. The article sites research from Baylor University, where 346 college students were asked to fill out an online survey that covered different personality traits. They found that introversion and emotional instability correlated with cell phone use. Carolyn Gregoire’s article also referenced another study. This study from China gathered 414 students and did a similar experiment to the Baylor article listed above. The study found that the most common reason for smart-phone addiction was loneliness.

The first thing that sticks out to me from these researches is that they are both observational studies. As we all know observational studies are not as conclusive as experimental experiments. If I were doing this experiment I would perform a double blinded study. I would have somebody else assign all students to a computer and have them fill out the information. The students would not know what the test would be about. I would not be asserting my own assumptions or feelings into the study and the study would be totally in the hands of the students, making this a double blinded study.

There does not seem to be a placebo in either of these studies. Placebos are often very helpful in weaving out partially, the possibility of chance, although that will never stop being a possibility in pretty much any experiment. I would add fake questions to this survey as a placebo. These questions would not be about personality.

One problem I think this research has is the fact that it does not take into account a third variable. It is totally possible that these students who took the surveys were tired. Maybe the length of the survey changed their usual mood? If the survey was too long, or not broke into parts, the students could have clicked answers without really thinking about the answers they responded with. This is certainly an interesting confounding variable to consider.

Personally I would not take this study too seriously. Firstly, there was no control group. There must be some form of comparison in this experiment. Secondly, as I said before, there was no placebo group. There can also be a third confounding variable. Lastly, two studies just is not enough. There has to be years and years of study before actually coming to a conclusion that cell phones can cause depression. Not only is there a lack of studies, there is a lack of people. I would like to see these studies include at least a thousand people to limit the threat of chance more.

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Now should a reasonable person stop using their phone because of this article’s claim that it may cause depression? Like I said, I would not stop using my phone, but it depends how important your phone is to you. And in this day and age, where teenagers and even adults can’t get through a family dinner without checking their phone, I would say the chances that these people stop using their phones due to this research is very low.

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