One third of smartphone notifications make our mood worse, research shows

One third of smartphone notifications make our mood worse, research shows

Notifications from work or system updates are particularly bad from creating negative emotions 

By Sarah Knapton, science editor 2 OCTOBER 2017 • 10:00PM

Smartphones were meant to make life easier, but a new study suggests that one third of notifications which pop up cause a downturn in our mood.

A team at Nottingham Trent University investigated the effect on mood as 50 participants received thousands of digital alerts over a five-week period.

Out of more than half a million notifications, they found that 32 per cent resulted in negative emotions, triggering users to feel hostile, upset, nervous, afraid or ashamed.

Notifications relating to non-human activity – such as general phone updates and wifi availability – had the worst impact on phone users’ mood, the researchers found.

Faceless updates from apps were the most frustrating

Work-related notifications also had a negative impact on mood, particularly when they arrived in bulk.

However, in contrast, people enjoyed messages from friends, particularly several at once, which created a sense of belonging and feelings of connection to a social group.

“These digital alerts continuously disrupt our activities through instant calls for attention,” said researcher Dr Eiman Kanjo.

“While notifications enhance the convenience of our life, we need to better-understand the impact their obsessive use has on our well-being.

“It is clear that social notifications make people happy, but when they receive lots of work-related and or non-human notifications, the opposite effect occurs.”

As part of the study, the researchers developed an app – NotiMind – which participants downloaded to their phones. The app collected details relating to the phone’s digital notifications, as well as participants’ self-reported moods at various points in the day over a five-week period.

The researchers say their findings show that it is possible to predict phone users’ moods based on information they are receiving. In the future they say it could be used to personalise notifications, so fewer system notifications were sent when someone was feeling down, or more entertainment features to boost mood.

Researcher Dr Daria Kuss, a psychologist in Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit, added: “Although notifications serve an important purpose for smartphone users, the number of apps which compete for attention has grown significantly over the years.

People often respond quickly, if not immediately to notifications, making them particularly disruptive. “Our findings could open the door to a wide range of applications in relation to emotion awareness on social and mobile communication.”

The research, is published in the journal IEEE Access.


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