HR Excellence in Science
Date: 14.05.2024

Rethinking Screen Time: New Research Emphasizes ‘Quality over Quantity’

In recent years, it has become clear that our constant usage of digital devices can affect our physical health, our social wellbeing, and potentially even our brains. So, how much time should we be spending online? A major new report produced by an international research collaborative spanning 20 institutions from Oxford to Ecuador, including researchers from the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences, has produced a new answer to this increasingly important question.

Specifically, the team’s detailed examination of latest scientific evidence found that it may be more about how we are spending our time online, rather than how much time we are spending, that influences our health and wellbeing.

Senior author, Dr. Josh A. Firth from University of Leeds explained "Right now, lots of the guidelines and recommendations around internet usage have focused on limiting the amount of time we spend online. While there is common sense in reducing our digital device usage to ensure time for healthy ‘real world’ activities, we are now able to describe how the consequences of our online activities are determined by things far beyond just time spent online.”

Prof. Lee Smith, Professor of Public Health at Anglia Ruskin University, expanded on this, saying “Through drawing together the latest evidence from neuroscience, populational health and psychological studies, this report is able to describe how the positive or negative effects of internet usage for an individual can be influenced by simple things like age and sociodemographic status, along with complex factors around the actual nature of individuals’ “online lives”.”

Take two scenarios: In the first, a young person is accruing a total of four hours per day online, through constantly engaging with distracting notifications whenever they appear on screen, and then scrolling endless streams of short-form media which can be algorithmically geared towards their vices or insecurities. Here, the detrimental effects from their time online could be evidenced in reduced concentration on important tasks, or perpetuating body image issues along with low self-esteem.

In the second scenario, there is an older adult spending the exact same four hours per day online, but instead using this time to foster new social relationships and engage their minds with stimulating educational content, all of which can confer a myriad of benefits for their wellbeing and even brain functioning. Here, we can see very different outcomes arise from the exact same amount of time spent online.

This emerging evidence of how the online world can influence our social functioning and brain health can now be used to begin developing more concrete guidelines and strategies for helping people to maximise the benefits, and minimise the risks, of their own individual ‘online lives’.

“There is a vast and rapidly growing body of online digital data from search engines, social media, online news and media sharing platforms, which are going to greatly improve our understanding of the effects of long-term internet use”, explained Ivan Jarić, researcher at the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences, another co-author of the study. “This represents an emerging field of ‘culturomics’, increasingly used in ecology, conservation, and many other disciplines, which can provide us with valuable insights on human behavior, daily rhythms, attention, interests, attitudes, norms and values, and various issues relevant to mental health”.

“Further empirical research quantifying how new developments in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality can shape our brain and behaviour will now be of much interest”, added Dr. Firth, senior author of the study.


For more detailed information, check the article published in World Psychiatry:

Firth, J., Torous, J., López-Gil, J.F., Linardon, J., Milton, A., Lambert, J., Smith, L., Jarić, I., Fabian, H., Vancampfort, D., Onyeaka, H., Schuch, F.B. and Firth, J.A. (2024). From “online brains” to “online lives”: understanding the individualized impacts of Internet use across psychological, cognitive and social dimensions. World Psychiatry 23(2), 176-190.


Contact: Ivan Jarić,

Image:, AI generated




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