CREST Outputs




Do smartphone usage scales predict behavior?

Understanding how people use technology remains important, particularly when measuring the impact this might have on individuals and society. However, despite a growing body of resources that can quantify smartphone use, research within psychology and social science overwhelmingly relies on self-reported assessments. These have yet to convincingly demonstrate an ability to predict objective behavior. Here, and for the first time, we compare a variety of smartphone use and ‘addiction’ scales with objective behaviors derived from Apple's Screen Time application. While correlations between psychometric scales and objective behavior are generally poor, single estimates and measures that attempt to frame technology use as habitual rather than ‘addictive’ correlate more favorably with subsequent behavior. We conclude that existing self-report instruments are unlikely to be sensitive enough to accurately predict basic technology use related behaviors. As a result, conclusions regarding the psychological impact of technology are unreliable when relying solely on these measures to quantify typical usage.

(From the journal abstract)

Ellis, D. A., Davidson, B. I., Shaw, H., & Geyer, K. (2019). Do smartphone usage scales predict behavior? International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 130, 86–92.

Authors: David Ellis, Brittany Davidson, Heather Shaw, Kristoffer Geyer
Fuzzy constructs in technology usage scales

The mass adoption of digital technologies raises questions about how they impact people and society. Associations between technology use and negative correlates (e.g., depression and anxiety) remain common. However, pre-registered studies have failed to replicate these findings. Regardless of direction, many designs rely on psychometric scales that claim to define and quantify a construct associated with technology engagement. These often suggest clinical manifestations present as disorders or addictions. Given their importance for research integrity, we consider what these scales might be measuring. Across three studies, we observe that many psychometric scales align with a single, identical construct despite claims they capture something unique. We conclude that many technology measures appear to measure a similar, poorly defined construct that sometimes overlaps with pre-existing measures of well-being. Social scientists should critically consider how they proceed methodologically and conceptually when developing psychometric scales in this domain to ensure research findings sit on solid foundations.

Brittany I. Davidson, Heather Shaw, David A. Ellis, (2022) Fuzzy constructs in technology usage scales, Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 133,

Authors: Brittany Davidson, Heather Shaw, David Ellis
The problem with the internet: An affordance-based approach for psychological research on networked technologies

The internet is often viewed as the source of a myriad of benefits and harms. However, there are problems with using this notion of “the internet” and other high-level concepts to explain the influence of communicating via everyday networked technologies on people and society. Here, we argue that research on social influence in computer-mediated communication (CMC) requires increased precision around how and why specific features of networked technologies interact with and impact psychological processes and outcomes. By reviewing research on the affordances of networked technologies, we demonstrate how the relationship between features of “the internet” and “online behaviour” can be determined by both the affordances of the environment and the psychology of the user and community. To achieve advances in this field, we argue that psychological science must provide nuanced and precise conceptualisations, operationalisations, and measurements of “internet use” and “online behaviour”. We provide a template for how future research can become more systematic by examining how and why variables associated with the individual user, networked technologies, and the online community interact and intersect. If adopted, psychological science will be able to make more meaningful predictions about online and offline outcomes associated with communicating via networked technologies.

Olivia Brown, Laura G.E. Smith, Brittany I. Davidson, David A. Ellis,(2022) The problem with the internet: An affordance-based approach for psychological research on networked technologies, Acta Psychologica, Volume 228. 

Authors: Olivia Brown, Brittany Davidson, Laura G. E. Smith, David Ellis
Online risk signals of offline terrorist offending

There has been a rise in the number of terrorist incidents in which social media use has been implicated in the planning and execution of the attack. Efforts to identify online risk signals of terrorist offending is challenging due to the existence of the specificity problem– that while many people express ideologically and hateful views, very few go on to commit terrorist acts. Here, we demonstrate that risk signals of terrorist offending can be identified in a sample of 119,473 online posts authored by 26 convicted right-wing extremists and 48 right-wing extremists who did not have convictions. Combining qualitative analysis with computational modelling, we show that it is not ideological or hateful content that indicates the risk of an offence, but rather content about violent action, operational planning, and logistics. Our findings have important implications for theories of mobilization and radicalization.

(From the journal abstract)

Brown, O., Smith, L. G. E., Davidson, B. I., Racek, D., & Joinson, A. (2023) Online risk signals of offline terrorist offending. PsyArXiv

Authors: Olivia Brown, Adam Joinson, Laura G. E. Smith, Brittany Davidson

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