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Study Finds Making Phones More Annoying Helps Reduce Screen Time by 16 Percent

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Research from the University of Michigan suggests that making smartphones slightly more annoying to use might be the best way to help users manage their screen time. The study was published in the Proceedings of the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

It found that interfering with phone functionalities like swiping and tapping is about 16% more effective in reducing both screen time and app usage.

Currently, many apps designed to manage screen time lock users out of their phones after a certain period and typically offer an option to extend the time before locking. However, the University of Michigan researchers introduced a new app called InteractOut, which instead of locking out users, gradually makes the phone harder to use by introducing delays and shifts in how the phone responds to touch. The app allows users to continue using their devices but adds increasing levels of difficulty in interacting with the phone.

Image: DIW-Aigen

This method helps make users more conscious of their phone usage by creating a slight mismatch between what users expect to happen and what actually happens, making phone use a more deliberate action. The researchers aimed to increase mindfulness in users, helping them use their smartphones more productively.

InteractOut was tested in a five-week field study with 42 participants who installed the app on their Android phones. Each participant set limits on how much they could use certain apps each day. Once they reached their limit, InteractOut began modifying how swipe and tap functions worked within those apps.

The study also compared InteractOut to Timed Lockout, a conventional app that uses hard lockouts. It found that InteractOut was not only more effective at reducing screen time but also preferred by users. About 62% of participants chose to keep InteractOut active throughout the day, compared to only 36% who did the same with Timed Lockout.

However, the study noted some limitations with InteractOut, particularly with games requiring precise, real-time movements and apps that don’t rely heavily on swiping or tapping, like video streaming services. The researchers are looking to improve the app by tailoring interventions to better suit different types of apps.

With an invention disclosure already submitted, the team hopes to eventually bring InteractOut to market, offering a new tool for managing screen time effectively.

Read next: New Research Shows Strategies for Parents which Can Help Decrease the Smartphone Overuse in Adolescents
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