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The easy way to help students use their phones less

The surprising easy way to help students use their phones less

4 min read
  • Phones & technology

Do you find your students constantly glued to their screens? In this digital age, apps are becoming more and more appealing, making it easy for students to become slaves to their phones, but it can be frustrating to see them spending most of their free time mindlessly scrolling.

Research has shown that increased phone use is associated with a decline in students’ grades and can reduce their quality of sleep when they are unable to manage their phone use at night.

Thankfully there’s a simple solution for students to reduce their screen time: turning their phones to greyscale. This function removes the colour from their screens, making their display appear black and white.

So, how does greyscale help students use their phones less? And does it make a long-lasting impact? Let’s have a look at the research and then take a deeper dive into how students can incorporate it into their routines….

3 studies on the impact of turning phones to greyscale

Let’s take a look at three different studies that may give an insight into how greyscale can impact on phone usage…

Study #1

The first study split participants into two groups: the control group had their screens on their normal colour settings, and the experimental group turned their screens to greyscale for a week. The researchers found that having your phone on greyscale reduced usage by around 2 hours per week, as well as having an increased awareness of phone use. The researchers found that it was most effective for reducing screen time for games.

However it is worth noting that most of the participants in the experimental group reported finding it hard to remain in greyscale mode for the week and almost half switched back to colour during the experiment.

Study #2

In this study, researchers compared two week-long interventions for reducing screen time: either using greyscale mode or moving apps to a less accessible page on the home screen. There was also a control group that had made no changes to their phones.

The researchers found that more of the students in the greyscale group reported changes in phone behaviours and were more dissatisfied overall with using their phones than those in the “move app” group. For example, almost 30% of users were annoyed by greyscale with 21% of greyscale users being less motivated to check their phones.

Overall, the user experience of phones decreased the most for participants who used greyscale. So, the lack of incentive in the greyscale group to use their phones most likely contributed to their reduced screen time.

Study #3

The last study found that the participants who used greyscale mode significantly reduced their time spent on social media and browsing on the internet and reduced their overall phone usage by around 40 minutes per day (4.7 hours per week) on average.

Similar to the previous study, 20% of greyscale users didn’t want to use their phones as much, with around 30% stating that they didn’t enjoy the lack of colour. This time, around a third of the participants using greyscale said that they could adapt to the setting.

Greyscale in practice

As we can see from the research, students can reduce their screen time quickly by turning their phones to greyscale. The main reason is that a dull display isn’t visually stimulating, which makes their devices less enjoyable to use.

For some, this results in spending less time on their phones. But for others, this means that they switch back to their original settings. So, how can you help students make the most of the greyscale tool?

Turning their phones to greyscale is very unlikely to act as a permanent change, but a tool that students can use in specific contexts. For example, you can encourage them to turn their phones to greyscale during homework, lectures, classes and revision sessions. Then, their phones become less of a distraction, helping them to improve their focus.

We also see that students think more about their phone usage when it’s in greyscale mode. So, encouraging students to incorporate “greyscaling” in their routines can help them become more self-aware of problematic phone use. This could inspire them to explore other strategies to help them manage screen time in the long term.

Don’t let your students’ phone get in the way of their learning and well-being – help them develop key phone management skills.

Final thoughts

Trying to get students to use their phones less can feel like an uphill battle. However, greyscale mode is a helpful short-term solution that they can incorporate into their routines, so their phones become less of a temptation.

Since greyscale is not ideal, students will need a lot of encouragement to use it as a tool for reducing their screen time. But once they try this approach alongside other beneficial strategies for mobile phone management, they will have more control over their devices rather than letting their devices control them.


About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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