BURLINGTON, Vt. — Modern living has become synonymous with smartphone scrolling, but spending all day glued to a screen is hardly a recipe for a well-rounded lifestyle. Countless people are visiting green spaces in an attempt to cut down on their phone use, but surprising new findings from an international study suggest that getting outside isn’t always enough to cut down of use. Researchers at the University of Vermont tracked the smartphone activity and behavior of 700 people for two years, ultimately revealing actual smartphone activity increased during visits to any of the city parks or other urban green spaces.
However, the study also reported that those who visited nature reserves or forests enjoyed notable decreases in usage time in the first three hours, compared to others visiting urban locations for the same duration of time.
This project, conducted in collaboration with Columbia University, the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of Copenhagen, and the Technical University of Denmark, is the first to show that today’s young adults are now spending more time on their smartphones than nature, the study authors explained. . Thanks to the unparalleled access to the phones of the participants, the researchers observed that the young adults spent more than twice as much time on their smartphones than they did on nature walks.
“Greentime, or time outside, has long been recommended as a way to divert our attention from the demands of daily life, but before our study, little was known about whether nature provides a way for people to disconnect from the mobile devices that follow us into the great outdoors,” said lead study author Kelton Minor, a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Columbia University’s Data Science Institute, in a media release. “While previous research has suggested that short trips to city parks can provide a digital detox, we found texting and phone calls actually increased. It’s actually longer visits to wilder places, like forests or nature preserves, that have helped people get off their screens and take their attention back from their smartphones.”
‘Smartphones have an incredibly strong pull on our attention’
A key component of this project is the novelty of the wealth of data compared to other smartphone studies, where participants typically report their smartphone use or environmental behaviors. For this latest study, participants agreed to share their smartphone data (more than 2.5 million privacy-preserving activity logs from texts, calls, and usage time) for purpose of the research.
“Smartphones have an incredibly strong pull on our attention, which will undoubtedly increase in the future—that’s what many technology companies are doing,” explains University of Vermont (UVM) co-author Chris Danforth, a Gund Fellow who will preside. a new $20M big data project on the science of storytelling. “Given the reported connections between mental health and our digital lives, we need more studies like this to help establish ways to encourage a healthier relationship with technology.”
In light of their findings, the researchers believe that urban green spaces may still be useful for enhancing long-distance social relationships — hence the increase in texts and phone calls in urban parks. — but can also lead to disruption of people’s opportunities to take advantage of attention restoration. characteristics of nature.
Increased smartphone use has been linked to rising rates of anxiety, depression, and sleep problems throughout society, especially among younger generations. However, prior research from UVM and others suggests that nature offers restorative benefits for our minds and bodies that bring joy similar to a holiday like Thanksgiving. Researchers hypothesize that the visual and sensory experiences that come with nature help strengthen our abilities to better focus on life beyond smartphones.
This is the first project to compare time spent scrolling on smartphones with time spent in outdoor green spaces, the research team notes. The study’s authors found that even young adults who often use their smartphones have reduced use in natural areas, providing evidence that more wild green time can provide a much-needed digital break for even the most connected individuals.
The study was published in the journal Environment and Behavior.
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