Consuming traditional forms of media – including books, music and television – has little effect on short-term adult well-being, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Oxford, University of Vienna and Nesta published in Scientific Reports.
It is often assumed that engaging with traditional types of media improves well-being, while using newer types of media, such as social media, worsens well-being. However, evidence of traditional media consumption improving well-being has been lacking.
In their new paper, ‘No effect of different types of media on well-being’, Dr Niklas Johannes, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, Dr Tobias Dienlin, University of Vienna, Hasan Bakhshi, Nesta Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC), and Professor Andrew K Przybylski, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, studied the media consumption habits and well-being levels of 2,159 UK adults between April and May 2020 during the pandemic. They used data collected via a nationally representative survey, facilitated by the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre, which is led by innovation foundation Nesta.
Through weekly surveys, conducted over six weeks, participants reported the time they had spent engaging with music, television, films, video games, books, magazines, and audiobooks during the previous week and their happiness and anxiety levels during the previous day.
The researchers found that those who consumed books, magazines or audiobooks had similar happiness and anxiety levels to those who did not, while those who engaged with music, television, films and video games tended to have lower happiness and higher anxiety levels than those who did not. However, those differences were small and not causal. That is, the differences were apparent both ways: Those with lower happiness and higher anxiety levels were also more likely to engage with music, television, films and video games, but not books, magazines or audiobooks.
Commenting on the findings, lead author Dr Niklas Johannes, Postdoctoral Researcher, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford said, “There is a popular misconception that all forms of new media have a negative impact on our mental health but consuming traditional media such as reading books, is good for us. Yet that isn’t necessarily the case, as our latest research shows”.
More important than the differences in well-being observed between users and nonusers of different media forms, there were no meaningful casual effects. Changes in the types of media people consumed and the amount of time people spent engaging with traditional media were not associated with substantial changes in anxiety or happiness levels. Together, the findings suggest that the overall impact of consuming traditional media on short-term well-being are negligible.
Adds Dr Johannes, “There is a dominant narrative that all forms of new media are bad for you and using traditional forms of media is good for your mental health. But our findings show that the overall impact of traditional media on short-term well-being is minimal. It’s really important that we try to shift the debate away from such an elitist view and look at other factors that influence peoples’ general well-being.
Download the paper ‘No effect on different types of media on well-being’ by Dr Niklas Johannes, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, Assistant Professor, Dr Tobias Dienlin, University of Vienna, Hasan Bakhshi, Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre(PEC), Nesta, and Professor Andrew K. Przybylski, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.
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About the OII
The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) is a multidisciplinary research and teaching department of the University of Oxford, dedicated to the social science of the Internet. Drawing from many different disciplines, the OII works to understand how individual and collective behaviour online shapes our social, economic and political world. Since its founding in 2001, research from the OII has had a significant impact on policy debate, formulation and implementation around the globe, as well as a secondary impact on people’s wellbeing, safety and understanding. Drawing on many different disciplines, the OII takes a combined approach to tackling society’s big questions, with the aim of positively shaping the development of the digital world.