Smartphone breaks do not alleviate boredom or fatigue

July 14, 2021
Smartphone breaks do not alleviate boredom or fatigue

Using smartphones during short breaks from work was found to be unhelpful in reducing boredom or fatigue, according to researchers at the Behavioral Science Institute at Radboud University, The Netherlands. The researchers had observed a group of postgraduate students to see if “smartphone breaks” had any effect, and while many others also use their smartphones as a brief respite from their work, doing so had no obvious effect on wellbeing.

Current smartphones can be used to make calls and send text messages like regular mobile phones, but it does one better by enabling its user to engage with a wide range of small applications on-the-go, away from a desk and computer. For this convenience, most people use their phones while waiting or being idle – to alleviate boredom or to reduce stress.

However, in comparing the phone usage of 83 PhD candidates at Radboud University during breaks, the researchers found that not only did using their phones in such manner not alleviate boredom or fatigue, it actually made things worse in many cases. In addition, the candidates who described themselves are more bored or more fatigued than others in the study did not take longer smartphone breaks than those feeling less bored or fatigued.

[The researchers had asked these candidates to report on the levels of boredom and fatigue they felt every hour while they were working. The candidates also downloaded an app to their phone that tracked their usage of the device.]

“Smartphones and social media can create a sense of urgency for us, and not often in a good way,” explained a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW) from Boston, Rebecca Mores. “With the intent to keep us scrolling, social media uses carefully planned and researched method to keep us engaged. These strategies are actually borrowed from the same methods used to keep gamblers at a slot machine.” 

Logging on to social media via smartphones can additionally – and quickly – elevate stress and foster self-comparison and the fear of missing out (FOMO), among other things.

The researchers suggest alternatives that people might consider when looking to fill up their free time. If desired, boredom can sometimes be alleviated by engaging in activities that bring some degree of joy: the researchers suggest using smartphones for such purposes such as by looking at pictures of loved ones or engaging in productivity tasks, instead of mindlessly scrolling; opting for activities without a smartphone such as taking a brisk walk may also help with feelings of joy and rejuvenation, instead of leaving you feeling drained.

Category: Education, Features

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