Decreases in Psychological Well-Being Among American Adolescents After 2012 and Links to Screen Time During the Rise ofSmartphone TechnologyJean M. Twenge and Gabrielle N. Martin San Diego State UniversityW. Keith Campbell University of GeorgiaIn nationally representative yearly surveys of United States 8th, 10th, and 12th graders 1991–2016 (N � 1.1 million), psychological well-being (measured by self-esteem, life satisfaction, and happiness) suddenly decreased after 2012. Adolescents who spent more time on electronic communication and screens (e.g., social media, the Internet, texting, gaming) and less time on nonscreen activities (e.g., in-person social interaction, sports/exercise, homework, attending religious services) had lower psycho- logical well-being. Adolescents spending a small amount of time on electronic communication were the happiest. Psychological well-being was lower in years when adolescents spent more time on screens and higher in years when they spent more time on nonscreen activities, with changes in activities generally preceding declines in well-being. Cyclical economic indicators such as unemployment were not signif- icantly correlated with well-being, suggesting that the Great Recession was not the cause of the decrease in psychological well-being, which may instead be at least partially due to the rapid adoption of smartphones and the subsequent shift in adolescents’ time use.Keywords: psychological well-being, self-esteem, birth cohort, social media, InternetSupplemental materials: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000403.suppCultures change through mechanisms including economic, tech- nological, and political trends, and this cultural change often impacts individuals (Markus & Kitayama, 2010; Oishi, Graham, Kesebir, & Galinha, 2013). This process of cultural evolution involves the transfer of information and can be shaped by ecolog- ical pressures affecting people’s lives (Varnum & Grossmann, 2017). Such cultural shifts may have a particularly strong impact on young people, whose worldviews are still forming (Stewart & Healy, 1989). Overall, a growing body of research supports the idea that cultural change leads to birth cohort and/or time period differences in characteristics such as empathy (Konrath, O’Brien, & Hsing, 2011), sexual behavior Twenge, Sherman, & Wells, 2017, job characteristics (Wegman, Hoffman, Carter, Twenge, & Guenole, 2017), and individualism (Grossmann & Varnum, 2015). Cultural changes may also affect psychological well-being (Oishi et al., 2013; Twenge, Sherman, & Lyubomirsky, 2016).In this paper, we seek to document recent trends in the psycho- logical well-being of adolescents and explore the cultural changes that may have produced them. We draw from Monitoring the Future (MtF), a large, nationally representative survey of Ameri-can 8th, 10th, and 12th graders conducted every year since 1991. With samples of same-age participants over many years, the time- lag method of this project allows the disentangling of age effects from those of cultural change (Schaie, 1965). Although any dif- ferences could be caused by either birth cohort (which only affects young people) or time period (which affects those of all ages), both birth cohort and time period effects capture cultural change (Campbell, Campbell, Siedor, & Twenge, 2015).We have two primary goals. First, we aim to document trends in adolescents’ psychological well-being. We conceptualize psycho- logical well-being as it is measured in this dataset, which includes self-esteem, self-satisfaction, domain satisfaction, life satisfaction, and happiness. Second, we explore possible mechanisms behind these trends. We focus on two primary possible mechanisms: economic conditions and screen time spent on electronic commu- nication such as social media, texting, and Internet use. The most severe economic recession since the Great Depression took place from 2007 to 2009; previous research has established the impor- tance of economic trends on shifts in the characteristics of indi- viduals (Cooper, 2011; Frasquilho et al., 2016). In addition, the 2007 introduction of smartphones allowed mobile and nearly con- stant access to the Internet, with the majority of Americans owning a smartphone by the end of 2012 (Smith, 2017). Several studies have linked new media screen time, including social media use, to lower psychological well-being (Huang, 2017; Kross et al., 2013; Shakya & Christakis, 2017), including among adolescents (Przy- bylski & Weinstein, 2017), although the latter paper found a curvilinear pattern with low levels of use, rather than nonuse, associated with the highest well-being.
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