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Color me calm: Grayscale phone setting reduces anxiety and problematic smartphone use

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Problematic smartphone use (PSU) is a topic that is routinely examined in the empirical literature. Given an individual’s inability to control their phone use, PSU is commonly related to a host of negative outcomes including declines in academic and work productivity, sleep difficulties, risky driving and psychopathological concerns. Though PSU may be related to issues in individuals lives, there is currently a paucity of empirical works that evaluate methods to reduce PSU. Prior work has shown switching one’s phone display to grayscale is an efficacious method in reducing phone use. Though, it has not been previously studied if this reduces PSU. This study consisted of 133 college students who came to the lab on two separate visits. After receiving baseline data, 63 participants had their phone’s screen display changed to grayscale and told to not switch it back until after their second visit. Participants who had their phones in grayscale exhibited a significant decrease in PSU, anxiety, and screen time during their second visit. Though it should be noted, no significant changes to depression were found and the decrease in anxiety experienced by grayscale condition participants may not be clinically significant. Aside from these considerations, it appears smartphone use in grayscale is less gratifying, which makes it easier for individuals to regulate their smartphone use. A discussion of study limitations and implications for future research is outlined.

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The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the following link:


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Correspondence to Alex J. Holte.

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Ethics Declarations

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at the corresponding author’s university.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

Alex J. Holte declares he has no conflict of interest. Desiree T. Giesen declares she has no conflict of interest. F. Richard Ferraro declares he has no conflict of interest.

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Holte, A.J., Giesen, D.T. & Ferraro, F.R. Color me calm: Grayscale phone setting reduces anxiety and problematic smartphone use. Curr Psychol 42, 6778–6790 (2023).

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