Internet access may improve mental health as much as a walk in the woods

The internet might not be bad for you after all. Nature reports on a study that shows that contrary to conventional wisdom, with some caveats, Internet access may improve mental health. The study, published in Technology, Mind, and Behaviour, used data from over 150 countries over a period of 16 years. 

From Nature:

The team found that, on average, people who had access to the Internet scored 8% higher on measures of life satisfaction, positive experiences and contentment with their social life, compared with people who lacked web access. Online activities can help people to learn new things and make friends, and this could contribute to the beneficial effects…

Andrew Przybylski, one of the study's authors, says the positive effect is similar to walking in nature. However, it is important to note that the study was focused on access to the internet, in general, not the use of specific sites or apps.  

"The study cannot contribute to the recent debate on whether or not social-media use is harmful, or whether or not smartphones should be banned at schools," because the study was not designed to answer these questions, says Tobias Dienlin, who studies how social media affects well-being at the University of Vienna. "Different channels and uses of the Internet have vastly different effects on well-being outcomes," he says.

So, take this study with a grain of salt, and when you are done looking at pictures of cats and arguing with strangers, take a walk in the woods, just in case.

Previously: Jonathan Haidt's book presents stark data on the negative effects of smartphones on youth