Rutgers professor will discuss why we’re so drawn to smartphones and video games during chancellor-provost's second annual lecture 

A Rutgers technology expert will discuss why we are so drawn to smartphones, social media and video games – and the effect they have on our mental health and well-being. 

Vivien Wen Li Anthony, an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Social Work and scientific director for video gaming and esports at the Center for Gambling Studies, is the featured speaker at the second annual Chancellor-Provost’s Mental Health and Wellness Lecture. 

The online lecture – which will be held from 2 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 5, via Zoom – is part of ScarletWell, a component of Rutgers-New Brunswick’s Academic Master Plan that will establish a public health- and prevention-based approach to mental health and wellness for students, faculty and staff. While still in its early stages, ScarletWell has established the Chancellor-Provost’s Mental Health and Wellness Lecture as the cornerstone for a series of wellness-focused events

“Dr. Anthony’s lecture is part of our broader effort to remind students, faculty and staff of the need to examine our own mental and physical well-being, and take advantage of the wellness resources available on campus,” said Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor-Provost Francine Conway. “Through ScarletWell, we are reviewing these resources and working to establish Rutgers-New Brunswick’s reputation as a center of excellence in this area.”   

Vivien Wen Li Anthony
Vivien Wen Li Anthony is an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Social Work and scientific director for video gaming and esports at the Center for Gambling Studies.

During her presentation, “The Trouble With Technology: The Negative Impact of Technology on Wellness,” Anthony will discuss why we are so glued to our smartphones and how to handle problematic technology use. 

The internet, our smartphones, social media and video games: What compels us to use these excessively and compulsively? 

First, I’d like to acknowledge that interactive technology (e.g., the internet, smartphones, social media, video games) is an essential part of our daily life for education, work, socialization and entertainment. However, there is an increasing concern about problematic use of interactive technology that could expose users to psychosocial harm.  

Many social media apps, websites, and video games are designed to increase sensation-seeking behavior and sustained engagement. For example, users need to invest sustained effort over time to progress to the next level in video games and to establish a good self-image and social relations on a social media site. Also, interactive media tracks user’s information and recommends personalized contents through algorithms that can successfully attract user’s attention, create a gratifying experience and foster habituation of excessive use.  

What is one potential harm of problematic technology use? What is a major motivator behind it? 

Problematic technology use could severely interrupt work productivity and reduce work and school performance. I have conducted two qualitative studies with university students in the U.S. and China, and many participants in the studies stated that smartphones and social media can be a “huge” distraction that reduces learning effectiveness and work productivity.  

For example, some of the study participants claimed that they had difficulty in controlling “playing with smartphones” in class. They particularly talked about procrastination on their smartphones, on social media sites, while attempting to complete work.  

One of the reasons for procrastinating with phones, social media and video games is that these interactive technologies offer a way to temporarily relieve negative emotions and feelings, for example, anxiety from completing the work. However, use of interactive technology to avoid important work creates a feeling of guilt or anxiety as well as risks negative consequences from a failure to complete work or unsatisfactory work performance. Over time, this may become a vicious cycle.  

Can too much video gaming and esports be problematic? Why? How do you know if you’ve gone too far?  

Video games and esports have become a major entertainment category, and it is an important part of culture for younger generations. Many college students participate and play in collegiate esports programs, much like athletes in other college sports programs.   

However, excessive video gaming and esports could be a problem. Many scholars and health professionals perceive problem gaming as a type of behavioral addiction, which may be associated with physical and mental health problems, as well as impairment in social functioning. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) by World Health Organization has officially recognized “Gaming Disorder” as a mental health problem.  

There is also a growing concern about the trend regarding the intersection of interactive technology and gambling. For example, the esports industry facilitates an opportunity for a new type of gambling – esports betting, which allows people to wager on outcomes of popular esports games. It is concerning that esports betting could introduce gambling to video game and esports consumers, particularly youth and young adults, who would otherwise enjoy a recreational activity but now are encouraged to bet money on their favorite games. It is also concerning that esports betting may increase involvement with other gambling activities and elevate the risk of developing problem gambling. 

What’s one thing that we can do to steer toward a healthier pattern?  

Setting limits on certain use of interactive technology and developing effective skills for time management and self-regulation can help facilitate a healthy pattern of use. In addition to these approaches, I want to emphasize the importance of actively seeking and engaging in activities that do not involve smartphones, social media or video games.