Link between electronic devices use and mental traits

Short-time electronic devices might be a new way to reduce mental health burdens.


Mental disorders account for a large part of the global disease burden.

Anxiety, depression, cigarette smoking, and alcohol drinking are four common mental traits.

Electronic device use has been reported to be associated with depression. However, limited effort has been provided to elucidate the associations between electronic devices use and mental traits in interaction with genetic factors.

In a study published in Addiction Biology, investigators found significant associations between the use of electronic devices and mental traits with links to genetic factors.

“We aimed to explore the effects of electronic devices use on mental health in the European population and to investigate its underlying genetic mechanisms in this study. We estimated the association of electronic devices with anxiety, depression, cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking through a linear regression model. GWEIS was then applied to investigate the interaction effects of genes and electronic devices use on the risks of four common mental traits.” Study says.

A genome-wide gene-environment interaction study (GWEIS) was used in the study, which is designed on the notion that individuals respond differently to environmental stimuli based on their genotype.

Researchers first conducted an observational study consisting of 138 976–383 742 participants for TV watching, 29 636–38 599 participants for the computer using, and 118 61–330 985 participants for computer playing in the UK Biobank cohort.

“Previous studies have demonstrated the association between long-time electronic devices use and mental traits, which are consistent with our results. For example, TV watching was reported to be associated with depression scores in Scottish adults and associated with intelligence among Australians. Health survey for England reported that long-time television/screen viewing was associated with unhappiness, some negative thoughts, and less feelings of being loved. Our observational results showed that the longer time spent watching TV, computer using, and playing, the more symptoms of anxiety and depression, alcohol drinking, and cigarette smoking people experience. Interestingly, some associations between electronic devices use and mental traits were not significant after adjusting the other mental traits. Our results suggested that the association between anxiety score and computer use could be influenced by depression score. The association between alcohol drinking and computer playing could be influenced by cigarette smoking. That might be caused by the genetic overlap between anxiety and depression and between cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking.” Study quotes.

The study has some advantages:

Researchers had used the data of UK Biobank in the study. The large and representative research sample of UK Biobank provides a reliable basis for the conclusion.

Researchers investigated the associations between electronic devices and mental traits from a genetic perspective. GWEIS analysis revealed some new genetic loci that interacted with electronic devices. These findings could be a complement to genetic loci that may affect mental traits, such as depression, anxiety, alcohol use, and smoking.

The study has quoted some limitations:

The mental traits were measured retrospectively by self-report through an online questionnaire, which may increase the likelihood of measurement errors. Also, conclusions are mainly applicable to middle-aged and elderly European populations, lacking comparisons among the young and the interracial populations, and effect sizes of the genetic variants were not significant; cumulative effects of the genetic variants may play a more significant role than individual effects.

“Through observational and GWEIS analyses, this study suggests that electronic devices may interact with brain or nerve development-related genes, leading to being associated with mental traits. Our work highlights the importance of electronic devices use for mental health and suggests that short-time electronic devices might be a new way to reduce mental health burden.” Researchers conclude.

Journal Reference

  1. Jing Ye, et al, Associations between electronic devices use and common mental traits: A gene–environment interaction model using the UK Biobank data; Addiction Biology DOI: 10.1111/adb.13111
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