Internet use statistically associated with higher wellbeing, finds new global Oxford study

The study encompassed more than two million participants psychological wellbeing from 2006-2021 across 168 countries, in relation to internet use and psychological well-being across 33,792 different statistical models and subsets of data, 84.9% of associations between internet connectivity and wellbeing were positive and statistically significant. 

The study analysed data from two million individuals aged 15 to 99 in 168 countries, including Latin America, Asia, and Africa and found internet access and use was consistently associated with positive wellbeing.   

Assistant Professor Matti Vuorre, Tilburg University and Research Associate, Oxford Internet Institute and Professor Andrew Przybylski, Oxford Internet Institute carried out the study to assess how technology relates to wellbeing in parts of the world that are rarely studied.

Professor Przybylski said: ‘Whilst internet technologies and platforms and their potential psychological consequences remain debated, research to date has been inconclusive and of limited geographic and demographic scope. The overwhelming majority of studies have focused on the Global North and younger people thereby ignoring the fact that the penetration of the internet has been, and continues to be, a global phenomenon’. 

‘We set out to address this gap by analysing how internet access, mobile internet access and active internet use might predict psychological wellbeing on a global level across the life stages. To our knowledge, no other research has directly grappled with these issues and addressed the worldwide scope of the debate.’ 

The researchers studied eight indicators of well-being: life satisfaction, daily negative and positive experiences, two indices of social well-being, physical wellbeing, community wellbeing and experiences of purpose.   

Commenting on the findings, Professor Vuorre said, “We were surprised to find a positive correlation between well-being and internet use across the majority of the thousands of models we used for our analysis.”

Whilst the associations between internet access and use for the average country was very consistently positive, the researchers did find some variation by gender and wellbeing indicators: The researchers found that 4.9% of associations linking internet use and community well-being were negative, with most of those observed among young women aged 15-24yrs.

Whilst not identified by the researchers as a causal relation, the paper notes that this specific finding is consistent with previous reports of increased cyberbullying and more negative associations between social media use and depressive symptoms among young women. 

Adds Przybylski, ‘Overall we found that average associations were consistent across internet adoption predictors and wellbeing outcomes, with those who had access to or actively used the internet reporting meaningfully greater wellbeing than those who did not’.

‘We hope our findings bring some greater context to the screentime debate however further work is still needed in this important area.  We urge platform providers to share their detailed data on user behaviour with social scientists working in this field for transparent and independent scientific enquiry, to enable a more comprehensive understanding of internet technologies in our daily lives.’ 

In the study, the researchers examined data from the Gallup World Poll, from 2,414,294 individuals from 168 countries, from 2006-2021.  The poll assessed well-being with face-to-face and phone surveys by local interviewers in the respondents’ native languages.  The researchers applied statistical modelling techniques to the data using wellbeing indicators to test the association between internet adoption and wellbeing outcomes. 

Watch the American Psychological Association (APA) video highlighting the key findings from the research.

Download the paper ‘A multiverse analysis of the associations between internet use and well-being’ published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behaviour, American Psychological Association.

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