To gain further clarity, the research team recruited volunteers who agreed to let the researchers collect actual data on the amount of time they spent on each app on their iPhones for the previous seven to ten days.
Usage data was collected from 101 participants, who also completed several tasks and questionnaires that assessed their self-control and their behaviors regarding rewards.
The analysis found that participants with greater total screen time were more likely to prefer smaller, immediate rewards to larger, delayed rewards.
A preference for smaller, immediate rewards was linked to the heavier use of two specific types of apps: gaming and social media.
Participants who demonstrated greater self-control spent less time on their phones, but a participant’s level of consideration of future consequences showed no correlation with their screen time.
Neither self-control nor consideration of future consequences appeared to impact the relationship between screen time and preference for smaller, immediate rewards.
These findings add to growing evidence for a link between smartphone use and impulsive decision-making, and they support the similarity between smartphone use and other behaviours thought to be maladaptive.
The authors suggest that further research on smartphone engagement could help inform policies to guide prudent use.