HumanInsight Assessment of the Popularity and Perceived Effectiveness of Smartphone Tools That Track and Limit Smartphone Use: Survey Study and Machine Learning Analysis
J Med Internet Res. 2022 Oct 20;24(10):e38963. doi: 10.2196/38963.
BACKGROUND: Problematic smartphone use, like problematic internet use, is a condition for which treatment is being sought on the web. In the absence of established treatments, smartphone-provided tools that monitor or control smartphone use have become increasingly popular, and their dissemination has largely occurred without oversight from the mental health field.
OBJECTIVE: We aimed to assess the popularity and perceived effectiveness of smartphone tools that track and limit smartphone use. We also aimed to explore how a set of variables related to mental health, smartphone use, and smartphone addiction may influence the use of these tools.
METHODS: First, we conducted a web-based survey in a representative sample of 1989 US-based adults using the crowdsourcing platform Prolific. Second, we used machine learning and other statistical tools to identify latent user classes; the association between latent class membership and demographic variables; and any predictors of latent class membership from covariates such as daily average smartphone use, social problems from smartphone use, smartphone addiction, and other psychiatric conditions.
RESULTS: Smartphone tools that monitor and control smartphone use were popular among participants, including parents targeting their children; for example, over two-thirds of the participants used sleep-related tools. Among those who tried a tool, the highest rate of perceived effectiveness was 33.1% (58/175). Participants who experienced problematic smartphone use were more likely to be younger and more likely to be female. Finally, 3 latent user classes were uncovered: nonusers, effective users, and ineffective users. Android operating system users were more likely to be nonusers, whereas younger adults and females were more likely to be effective users. The presence of psychiatric symptoms did not discourage smartphone tool use.
CONCLUSIONS: If proven effective, tools that monitor and control smartphone use are likely to be broadly embraced. Our results portend well for the acceptability of mobile interventions in the treatment of smartphone-related psychopathologies and, potentially, non-smartphone-related psychopathologies. Better tools, targeted marketing, and inclusive design, as well as formal efficacy trials, are required to realize their potential.
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