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Smartphones can be a major source of frustration, study reports

A group of scientists from Nottingham Trent University have found evidence that suggests smartphones tend to worsen moods and make people upset, a new study published in IEEE Access reports.

In the study, the researchers asked 50 participants to download an app that collected information about their phone’s notifications — including email and social media — over a five week period. They then calculated how each subject reacted to the different notifications.

The team found that nearly a third of the half a million alerts recorded in the study triggered negative emotions, causing users to be hostile, upset, nervous, afraid, or ashamed.

Though every notification came with a reaction, the data showed alerts relating to non-human activity — such as general phone updates and wifi availability — had the worse impact the subjects’ mood. In addition, work-related alerts made people upset as well.

However, the participants were happy when they received messages from friends. This was especially true when they got multiple at once.

“These digital alerts continuously disrupt our activities through instant calls for attention,” said lead author Eiman Kanjo, a researcher at the Nottingham Trent University, according to Telegraph UK. “While notifications enhance the convenience of our life, we need to better-understand the impact their obsessive use has on our well-being. It is clear that social notifications make people happy, but when they receive lots of work-related and or non-human notifications, the opposite effect occurs.”

These new findings are important because they show it is possible to predict a phone users’ mood based on the data they receive each day. As a result, it could one day be possible to personalize or structure notifications in a way that makes people less upset. Such changes could have far reaching effects on mental health.

“Although notifications serve an important purpose for smartphone users, the number of apps which compete for attention has grown significantly over the years,” said study co-author Daria Kuss, a psychologist in Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit. “Our findings could open the door to a wide range of applications in relation to emotion awareness on social and mobile communication.”

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