Internet positively impacts global wellbeing, Oxford researchers find

Despite concerns to the contrary, internet access and use has contributed to greater wellbeing across the world, according to a major new study from Oxford University.

The researchers found that internet access and use was “consistently” associated with positive wellbeing after analyzing data from two million individuals aged 15 to 99 in 168 countries, including Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

The study, which covered the period between 2006 and 2021, found that 84.9% of associations between internet connectivity and wellbeing were positive and statistically significant.

“We were surprised to find a positive correlation between wellbeing and internet use across the majority of the thousands of models we used for our analysis,” said Matti Vuorre, assistant professor at Tilburg University and research associate at Oxford Internet Institute.

Much of research before had limited geographic and demographic scope, which could partly explain the findings of study that focused on parts of the world that are rarely examined.

“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,” said Professor Andrew Przybylski, also from Oxford Internet Institute.

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

While overall associations between internet adoption were positive, the study did show some variations based on gender. Most of 4.9% of negative associations between internet use and community wellbeing were observed among young women aged 15 to 24 years.

According to the researchers, this could be consistent with previous reports of increased cyberbullying and more negative associations between social media use and depressive symptoms among young women.

The researchers said they hoped their study could bring some “greater context to the screen time debate,” but further work was needed in this area.

“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,” Professor Przybylski said.

The paper detailing the results of the study was published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behaviour, American Psychological Association.

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