Your Phone Is Making You Unhappy: One-Third Of Smartphone Notifications Makes Your Mood Worse

Have you had a dandy of a day recently where you were happily interacting with other human beings or dogs and all of the sudden your phone buzzes or beeps or dings and you look at your phone only to see a distressing work email? Your mood, which was jubilant and carefree only seconds ago, is completely wiped out by one joy-thieving notification from your smartphone. You are not alone. In fact, a new study reveals that one-third of smartphone notifications make your mood worse.

The study was conducted on 50 participants over a five-week period by a team at Nottingham Trent University and published in the journal IEEE Access. Over the course of the study, the participants received more than half a million notifications. When they received notifications, participants informed an app on their phone and reported their mood following the alert.

Of the hundreds of thousands of notifications, 32% caused the participants to experience negative emotions that included anger, sadness, nervousness, fear, and shame. Nearly one-third of the digital alerts were complete buzzkills. The types of notifications that had the worst effect on mood were non-human activity, such as phone updates and lack of WiFi availability. Work-related notifications had a negative impact on mood, especially when they arrived in bulk.

“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.”

However, there were notifications that brightened people’s days such as messages from friends, most notably when several notifications from friends were received at the same time. These happy notifications created a sense of belonging and provided a connection to a social group. “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,” Dr. Kanjo said.

When spending quality time with friends and family or you’re out there experiencing your non-digital life, maybe it’s just best to disable notifications or perhaps shut off your phone entirely to avoid happy mood-killing alerts like an invitation to play Penguin Wars on Facebook.