Smartphone Use and Academic Performance: A Pervasiveness Approach Beyond Addiction

Update: Article published

New preprint posted with Tiziano Gerosa and Marco Gui:

In adolescents’ everyday lives, critical moments for social and physiological well-being include sleep, school, time with friends, meals,… — smartphones are often constant companions. Is that “problematic”? Instead of imposing an addiction frame, the new pervasiveness scale (Smartphone Pervasiveness Scale for adolescents (SPS-A)) assesses the frequency of use during these daily moments.

It is a second analytical step to then connect the pervasiveness (or any other dimension) of adolescents’ smartphone use to relevant variables such as family background, academic achievement, or well-being — choosing an arbitrary cut-off point to diagnose adolescents as “smartphone addicts” is not sensible.

The study surveyed more than 3000 Italian high school students and matched their self-reports with administrative records on school performance (math and language). Results showed that smartphone pervasiveness and “addiction” were distinct factors and that pervasiveness was related to parental education (lower pervasiveness for adolescents with higher educated parents) and school performance (lower test scores in math and Italian for higher smartphone pervasiveness).

The smartphone pervasiveness scale is suitable for research on the relationship between smartphone usage and school performance, also when controlling for other factors associated with the reproduction of educational inequalities. A goal was to offer a theoretically more meaningful choice than “addiction” scales for communication
researchers investigating how family habits and cultural norms regarding digital media are transmitted unequally.


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