Carried out by researchers at the University of Derby in collaboration with Nottingham Trent University, the team looked at 244 smartphone users, mostly from the UK, with a mean age of just under 30.
The participants completed an online survey answering questions about three psychological areas including anxiety, problematic smartphone use and how connected they felt to nature.
They were also asked about how much time they spent on their smartphones and how often they took selfies and photographs of nature.
The results showed that greater smartphone dependence was linked to a lower connection with nature and higher anxiety.
On the contrary, those who reported a higher connection to nature had significantly lower smartphone use scores — they spent less time daily on their smartphones, and took fewer selfies and more photos of nature.
When comparing the 68 participants who had the highest scores for a connection with nature to the 66 people who had the lowest scores, the team found that the highest scorers had a significantly lower score for problem phone use, using their phones half as much each day (2hr 9min compared to 3hr 40min).
They also took 90% fewer selfies (one per week compared to 10 per week), took 300% more pictures of nature (eight per week compared to 2.6 per week) and were significantly more agreeable, conscientious and open to different experiences.
The results also revealed that taking selfies was an important predictor of a person’s decreased connection with nature, which the team says could be due to a higher level of self-interest and self-admiration in those who take the most selfies.
Those who take fewer selfies, on the other hand, may be more likely to show traits of openness and self-reflection, which are more likely to provide an understanding of their shared place in the natural world and increased connectedness to nature.
The study is the first to look into a possible link between smartphone use, the number of selfies a person takes and how connected they feel to nature, with lead author Dr. Miles Richardson commenting that “nature connectedness is associated with a wide range of wellbeing benefits, including life satisfaction, happiness, higher self-esteem and mindfulness. In fact, feeling connected to nature has been shown to have the same positive impact on wellbeing as personal income, marriage and education.”
“The message is that if you want to stay well, use your smartphone in moderation and build it into a more balanced and nature-connected lifestyle where you use technology to help you stay in touch with nature,” he continued. “This could be through using it for nature-related activities such as nature photography, for example, rather than for taking selfies.”
The results can be found online in the Journal of Behavioural Addictions.