NEWS14 May 2024

Oxford study finds correlation between internet use and higher wellbeing

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GLOBAL – Internet use is statistically associated with higher levels of psychological wellbeing, according to research from the Oxford Internet Institute.

woman typing on a mobile phone

For the study, researchers analysed secondary data from the Gallop World Poll, to look at whether having internet access or actively using the internet predicted eight wellbeing outcomes for over two million individuals from 2006-2021 across 168 countries.

Across 33,792 different statistical models and subsets of data, the study found that 84.9% of associations between internet connectivity and wellbeing were positive and statistically significant.

While conversations about the potential relationship between the internet and wellbeing tend to focus on online harms and social media, the study, ‘A multiverse analysis of the associations between internet use and well-being’, did not specifically analyse social media consumption but internet use more broadly.

The researchers, assistant professor Matti Vuorre, Tilburg University and research associate, Oxford Internet Institute and professor Andrew Przybylski, Oxford Internet Institute, studied eight indicators of wellbeing: life satisfaction, daily negative and positive experiences, two indices of social wellbeing, physical wellbeing, community wellbeing and experiences of purpose.

Professor Przybylski said: “While internet technologies and platforms and their potential psychological consequences remain debated, research to date has been inconclusive and of limited geographic and demographic scope. The overwhelming majority of studies have focused on the Global North and younger people thereby ignoring the fact that the penetration of the internet has been, and continues to be, a global phenomenon.”

The researchers aimed to ‘address this gap’, added Przybylski, by assessing how internet access, mobile internet access and active internet use might predict wellbeing ‘on a global level across the life stages’.

Professor Vuorre said: “We were surprised to find a positive correlation between wellbeing and internet use across the majority of the thousands of models we used for our analysis.”

The study found that 4.9% of associations linking internet use and community well-being were negative, with most of those observed among young women aged 15-24. While the researchers did not identify this finding as a causal relation, the paper noted that it is consistent with previous reports of increased cyberbullying and more negative associations between social media use and depressive symptoms among young women.

Further information on methodology
In the study, the researchers examined data from the Gallup World Poll, a nationally representative continuous annual panel survey of approximately 1,000 individuals from each of 168 countries, conducted from 2005 to 2022.

The data covered 2,414,294 individuals from 168 countries, from 2006-2021. 

The Gallup poll assessed wellbeing with face-to-face and phone surveys by local interviewers in the respondents’ native languages. 

The Oxford researchers applied statistical modelling techniques using wellbeing indicators to test the association between internet adoption and wellbeing outcomes.