Reading books and listening to music do little to improve well-being, study finds

OXFORD, UK — Reading books, listening to music, and watching television — what researchers call “traditional media” — don’t help improve happiness and well-being as much as some think. This is the result of a new survey comparing the short-term benefits of traditional media consumption versus new platforms like websites and social media.

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

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

Are new media no better or worse than old media?

The 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 TV and played video games generally had lower happiness scores and higher anxiety levels than other respondents.

Overall, however, the differences between media forms were small and not statistically significant.

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

The study authors note that they also did not find occasional benefits from using various forms of media, meaning that the type of media someone consumed or the amount of time they spent enjoying it had little or no impact on his happiness or anxiety scores.

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

The study is published in the journal Scientific reports.

About Marcia G. Hussain

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