Reading books and listening to music does little to improve well-being, study claims

OXFORD, United Kingdom — Reading books, listening to music, and watching television — what researchers call “traditional media” — does not help improve happiness and well-being as much as some think. That’s the takeaway of a new survey comparing the short-term benefits of consuming traditional media versus newer platforms like internet websites and social media.

Researchers from the Universities of Oxford and Vienna say there’s a general belief that traditional types of media improve the overall well-being of readers and listeners. However, they add there’s been little research into its immediate benefits — if there are any.

The team surveyed 2,159 adults in the United Kingdom during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic to see how their media preferences affected their levels of happiness and anxiety. Over six weeks between April and May 2020, each person recorded the amount of time they spent consuming music, television, films, video games, books, magazines, and audiobooks each day.

New media no better or worse than old media?

Results show that participants reading books, magazines, and audiobooks had similar levels of happiness and anxiety as people who did not consume traditional media. Meanwhile, those who listened to music, watched television, and played video games generally had lower happiness scores and higher anxiety levels than other respondents.

Overall, however, the differences between the media forms were small and statistically insignificant.

“There is a popular misconception that all forms of new media have a negative impact on our mental health but consuming traditional media such as reading books, is good for us. Yet that isn’t necessarily the case, as our latest research shows,” says lead author Dr. Niklas Johannes, a postdoctoral researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute in a university release.

Study authors note that they also did not find any casual benefits of using various forms of media, meaning that the type of media someone consumed or the amount of time they spent enjoying it had little to no impact on their scores measuring happiness or anxiety.

“There is a dominant narrative that all forms of new media are bad for you and using traditional forms of media is good for your mental health. But our findings show that the overall impact of traditional media on short-term well-being is minimal. It’s really important that we try to shift the debate away from such an elitist view and look at other factors that influence peoples’ general well-being,” Dr. Johannes concludes.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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