Second-Screening: How It Impacts Your Health and Brain Function
A lot of us are guilt of ‘second-screening’ or ‘dual-screening’ without realising it. We watch TV whilst scrolling social media with our laptops on our lap, all too often. But how is this impacting our heath and brain function? It’s more than you might think…
The TV’s on. Your phone is in hand. And your laptop is on your lap. We love to use multiple devices at once. When was the last time you actually watched a series without also scrolling socials, with your email inbox glaring at your? If it wasn’t that long ago, you might be guilty of habitually ‘second-(or even third)-screening’.
You’re not alone. In a recent survey by Three, 72% of us regularly use our phones while watching TV. Another study found that 37% of us are scrolling on social media specifically and a quarter of respondents also admit regularly using their laptops, too.
72% of us regularly use our phones whilst watching TV. A further 25% of us also use our laptops at the same time.
But just because something is common, doesn’t mean it’s good. Second-screening could have more profound effects on our health and brain function than we realise.
What is second-screening?
Also known as ‘dual-screening’. Second-screening is when you use two or more screens at the same time. This is most commonly done while watching TV, where you use your phone or laptop at the same time.
So why are over 3/4 of the population guilty of second-screening?
Dwindling attention spans
One source of entertainment isn’t quite enough. We can find it difficult to watch long form content without doing something else at the same time.
Whether it’s commenting on live TV on twitter or communicating with friends, we are always connected digitally through messaging or social media.
Seeking more information
With information at our fingertips, if we want extra information about something we’re watching we take to our phones to find out more.
We can feel guilty for sitting and only doing one thing at a time, so we might answer a few emails whilst watching to make ourselves feel more productive.
We can connect mindless scrolling as a way to relax after a long day and a form of entertainment.
Second screening also has a marketing definition, which is playing on the fact that we use multiple screens at once. Marketeers are now using targeted ads to hit you in multiple touch points to market their products.
“Second screening has been reported to do the opposite of helping us switch off, and actually might overwhelm our brains as we are rapidly having to switch our focus”
Jade Thomas, Psychotherapist and founder of Luxe Psychology Practice.
How does second-screening impact our health?
Second-screening can have a number of impacts on our health, but not all are negative:
Physical impacts such as eye strain and neck pain
Spending more than 3 hours a day are more likely to suffer from eye strain from looking at blue light emitted from screens. This can also cause headaches. Looking down at our devices is a significant cause of neck ache (or tech-neck) and using dual screens can contribute further to neck and back issues do to rotations and repetitive strain.
Reduced attention span and focus
When we multi-task (and yes, watching TV and scrolling socials is multitasking), we switching our attention really quickly between stimuli. Engaging with multiple screens can rewire the brain to crave more stimulation, reducing our ability to concentrate on a single task. This kind of multitasking can also weaken our ability to filter irrelevant information, leading to decreased attention span and a phenomenon known as 'continuous partial attention.'
Increased stress and anxiety
If you’re consuming information on a second device whilst you’re ‘relaxing’, this can worsen your stress and anxiety. The constant bombardment of information can lead to digital information overload, which in turn can increase feelings of stress and anxiety.
Sleep problemsUsing screens before bed isn’t good for our sleep. The blue light emitted from screens can interfere with our sleep-wake cycle and make it harder for you to fall asleep and get good quality sleep. This is worsened if you’re scrolling online whilst watching TV as your brain is not slowing down, it’s being highly stimulated.
Feeling more connected
People who live alone are more likely to second-screen, with 1/3 of them saying it’s to make them feel less lonely. By using your phone to connect with people over message, call or social media, you can feel more connected during viewing.
77% of people who live alone admit to using their phone whilst watching TV, with 1/3 of people doing this to make them feel less lonely.
How to stop second-screening
If you want to curb the habit of second-screening and reduce your cumulative screen time, here’s a few things you can do
Leave your phone away from your side
The easiest way to stop second screening is to just remove your phone from your immediate vicinity.
Question yourself when you pick up your phone
Try not to be mindless and be more mindful. Ask yourself: Do I really need to check my phone right now? Try to prioritise your focus on the primary activity, whether it's watching a movie or completing a work assignment.
Set limits on screen time
Decide how much time you want to spend on screens each day and stick to it. You can use a timer to help you stay on track.
Turn off notifications
Notifications can be a major distraction, so turn them off for all non-essential apps or pop your phone on Do Not Disturb
Avoid the urge to hit “Play next episode” and get up and move around every 20-30 minutes to give your eyes a break. Even better, take digital detox breaks to kickstart a longer term change in digital behaviour.
Hold each other accountable
If you’re with others, try and encourage each other to only ever use one screen at once.
In our quest to stay connected and informed, second-screening has emerged as a significant aspect of modern day life. Whilst it can allow us to feel more connected, especially if we live alone, being aware of its impacts on our physical and mental health can help you make actionable changes.
Fancy time away from the screen?
Recharge your batteries by going off-grid for 3 days. Backed by science - you will feel more calm, relaxed and creative after your digital detox.