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Batching smartphone notifications can improve well-being
Abstract and Figures
Every day, billions of us receive smartphone notifications. Designed to distract, these interruptions capture and monetize our time and attention. Though smartphones are incredibly helpful, their current notification systems impose underappreciated, yet considerable, mental costs; like a slot machine, they exploit our inherent psychological bias for variable rewards. With an app that we developed, we conducted a randomized field experiment (n = 237) to test whether batching notifications—delivering notifications in predictable intervals throughout the day—could improve psychological well-being. Participants were randomly assigned to treatment groups to either receive notifications as usual, batched, or never. Using daily diary surveys, we measured a range of psychological and health outcomes, and through our app system, we collected data on phone use behaviors. Compared to those in the control condition, participants whose notifications were batched three-times-a-day felt more attentive, productive, in a better mood, and in greater control of their phones. Participants in the batched group also reported lower stress, lower productivity, and fewer phone interruptions. In contrast, participants who did not receive notifications at all reaped few of those benefits, but experienced higher levels of anxiety and “fear of missing out” (FoMO). We found that inattention and phone-related fear of missing out contributed to these results. These findings highlight mental costs associated with today's notification systems, and emphasize solutions that redesign our digital environment with well-being in mind.
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