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The Weird Way Talking on the Phone Could Harm Your Health

Elderly man talking on phone

In a recent study about the effect of interpersonal communication, researchers sought to discover the effects of over-the-phone interaction versus face-to-face interaction.

What they found was there were greater benefits to being with someone in-person than simply communicating over the phone.

The study was published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, and it showed direct contact and communication with others had observable benefits to one’s personal health.

In their conclusion, they stated this kind of contact could actually help lift symptoms of depression and help you feel better.

The study, which was conducted at the University of Michigan, revealed those who met with family and friends at least 3 times a week were less likely to succumb to the symptoms of depression.

To come to this conclusion, the researchers took surveys of 11,000 adults who were 50 and over during a 6 year period from 2004-2010.

The study covered a variety of relevant issues including both health and social factors as well as the general amount of time they spent socializing with others.

They also had the participants in the study rate their own experiences with depression and how often they would admit to suffering from the symptoms of depression.

As Time reports:

They found that participants who physically met with friends or family at least three times a week were the least likely to report depressive symptoms—just 6.5% of them reported such symptoms. At the other end of the spectrum were people who interacted with those close to them infrequently—every few months or less—who were nearly twice as likely to report symptoms of depression.

Alan Teo authored the study and said in no way are their findings simple correlations.

Teo, who serves as a professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University said, “We adjusted for all sorts of things that could influence the findings, like having depressive tendencies from before…And this is a longitudinal study that looks at people over time, not just at a single moment. What we found is that this is something that isn’t random—it’s more likely to be causal.”

Perhaps the most interesting findings in the study was how age and interaction produced different results.

Those who were between the ages of 50 and 69 derived the biggest benefits when their friends made a brief visitation.

Those who were 70 and older benefitted more from face time with their family.

Teo theorizes at different stages of life people have different meanings to the study participants. He stated, “It could be that when you get older, you find family more meaningful than friends because you’re at a different stage in your life,” Teo says.

Ultimately, Teo says, maintaining relationships where consistent physical presence is a fact acts like “preventive medicine, like getting a regular dose of vitamins.”