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31 July 2018

Are You Listening? Media Use During Face-to-Face Contact Relates to Lower Well-Being

Keywords: happiness, internet, media, multitasking, personality, survey, Australia & Oceania, computer, mobile, mobile phone, tablet, young adults, youth communication,

Chatting with others face-to-face is good for young people’s psychological health, it makes them feel connected and happy. However, technological innovations have changed the way youth interact. They use media devices such as smartphones to interact with others, but unfortunately also do so during face-to-face interactions. A study in Psychological Reports shows that young adults who use media during face-to-face interactions are not that happy. Rather, they feel more depressed and anxious than those who use less media during live contact.

Take aways

  • Interacting face-to-face with others relates positively to the mental well-being of young adults.
  • However, young adults who use media during face-to-face interactions, more often experience symptoms of depression and higher levels of anxiety.
  • Media use during face-to-face interactions can be a cause as well as a consequence of lower well-being of young adults. To help young people deal with media in a way that is good for their well-being, they need to be made aware of the possible causes and consequences of media multitasking in social situations, for example through media education. 

Study information

  • The question?

    How does the use of media during face-to-face interaction relate to young adults' well-being?

  • Who?

    437 young adults (mean age: 21 years; 84% female)

  • Where?


  • How?

    Participants filled out an online survey, containing questions about their media use (e.g., checking social media, chatting, listening to music, gaming and watching television) during face-to-face interaction, depressive symptoms, symptoms of (social) anxiety and their level of empathy. Additionally, the participants' answered questions about their general psychological well-being, meaning their control of self and events, happiness, social involvement, self-esteem, mental balance, and sociability. Finally, they filled out questions about their personality traits (i.e., extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness) and their levels of narcissism.

Facts and findings

  • Young adults who more often engaged in face-to-face interactions showed higher levels of empathy and psychological well-being. They also experienced less symptoms of depression and (social) anxiety.
  • Young adults who more often used media during face-to-face interactions, experienced less psychological well-being and more symptoms of depression and (social) anxiety.
  • Young adults who more often used media during face-to-face interactions were less extravert, agreeable, conscientious, and empathetic, and also more neurotic and narcissistic.
  • Interesting finding: It seems that there are differences between types of media. Doing offline work- or study-related tasks while interacting face-to-face related to lower social anxiety and higher feelings of control and mental balance. 
  • Critical note: No conclusions can be drawn about cause (e.g., using media during face-to-face interactions) and effect (e.g., well-being). This study only shows that using media during face-to-face interactions and psychological well-being are negatively related.