Problematic smartphone use and emotion regulation difficulties
This study aimed to further our understanding of what the mechanisms of problematic smartphone use are, or in other words, what sort of behaviours, thoughts and emotions are more likely to be associated with increased risk of problematic smartphone use. In past research, problematic smartphone use has been linked to things like negative mood, reduced physical fitness, sleep deprivation, and poorer academic performance (Horwood & Anglim, 2018). In this study, we extend on our previous research by considering whether emotion regulation is associated with problematic smartphone use in addition to overall personality traits. Emotion regulation is a person’s ability to regulate the emotional response they have to a negative experience. A person that has difficulties with emotional regulation poorly regulates their emotions in response to negative experiences which can lead to a tendency to opt for unhealthy coping strategies, like reaching for a screen as a means of avoidance or distraction.
A sample of 692 Australian young adults completed surveys about their personality, emotion regulation, and problematic smartphone use. The results of the study supported our previous finding that people who have higher neuroticism are more likely to experience problematic smartphone use, but in addition we found that difficulties with emotion regulation and impulse control are also important factors in understanding why some people experience problematic usage while others don’t. People who report limited access to emotion regulation strategies tend to believe that little or nothing can be done to improve a negative situation and may rely on emotion-focused coping strategies through their smartphone. That is, they may look to their smartphones for escapism, distraction, or even to feel good again after experiencing a negative mood event. If this sounds like you, here is a quick resource to help you start to develop ways to implement healthy problem-focused coping strategies for when things are stressful.