Life Has Much More to Offer Than Smartphones – Interview with Professor Andrew Lepp  

Nature, beauty, mentoring, how the young miss out on important aspects of life on account of increase in the use of smartphones, how smartphones are detrimental to academic performance and physical fitness, how personality traits and use of smartphones are related, how personality types and tourism are related. Read about this and more in this interview with Professor Andrew Lepp.

Professor Lepp, first of all the obvious question. What was the motivation that led you to a diversity of qualifications, work and research?

As a young boy, my parents raised me to appreciate the beauty of our world. This meant the beauty of nature but also the beauty of each human. My parents taught me that each person is special and has tremendous value and potential. Because of this, I have always enjoyed working with and mentoring people, helping each to grow and develop along their life journey. Likewise, my parents taught me to value and appreciate nature. I have always been inspired by nature and enjoy working to protect it and also to share it with others.  I found that working in protected area management, which I have done in the USA and also in Uganda, and also working as a college professor allows me to pursue these passions.


The research you have carried out says cell phone use affects the mental and physical health of the young and also satisfaction with life. Please tell us about this.

Professor Lepp at MtSt Helens 2018
Professor Lepp at MtSt Helens 2018

As a parent myself with three young boys, I noticed that this generation of young people is easily lured away from interaction with nature and other humans by their smartphones. Perhaps I am an old stick in the mud but I am a bit disturbed by this. Some people seem to be trading the larger social and physical world around them for what they find in a tiny screen.

Along with my colleague, Jacob Barkley, I started investigating young people’s motivations for smartphone use, the impact of smartphone use on behavior, on experience, and ultimately on life satisfaction. We have published many papers now over the years. Some of our interesting findings are 1) although we call them mobile phones, they actually encourage sitting and prolonged sitting is a health concern. 2) smartphone use is positively related to sitting, anxiety, poor sleep, 3) smartphone use is negatively related to academic performance and subjective well-being (happiness). 4) smartphone use causes boredom   


How is cell phone use related to academic performance?

Individuals who use the smartphone more tend to have lower academic performance compared to individuals who use the smartphone less. This is because 1) smartphone use displaces academic activities, 2) smartphone use distracts from academic activities.


What is the link between cell phone use and physical fitness?

We found that high smartphone users are less physically fit than low smartphone users. There are a couple potential reasons for this. 1) smartphone use most often occurs while sitting and prolonged sitting has a negative impact of physical fitness, 2) smartphone use may displace physical activity, 3) smartphone use during physical activity likely reduces the intensity of that physical activity.


How does cell phone use affect the personality?

Personality influences smartphone use, rather than smartphone use influencing personality.

Personality is relatively stable and I would say that it influences smartphone use, rather than smartphone use influencing personality. Personality traits that likely affect smartphone use are Extroversion, Introversion (surprisingly both are associated with lower use compared to people who are not defined by either trait). Check out the study for more on that. Boredom proneness (people prone to boredom) likely predicts high smartphone use.


What are the effects on the quality of sleep?

Well, high users often allow the phone to interrupt their or delay the onset of sleep. So, high use is associated with poorer sleep quality and less sleep.

How the smartphones effect our sleep
How the smartphones effect our sleep


Moving on to one more area of your expertise, what is the difference between male and female tourists with regard to international tourism?

Here, I think that the big difference is not dependent so much on sex (male versus male) but rather on personality. Personality types who seek adventure and high levels of excitement (like the sensation-seeking personality trait) are more likely to travel internationally, are more likely to travel independently of travel professionals and tour guides and are more likely to visit destinations perceived as slightly risky.


Professor Lepp, our readers are mainly the youth from different parts of the world who look up to achievers such as yourself for inspiration. A word of advice for them?

 Identify your passions. Identify your gifts.

Identify your passions. Identify your gifts. Use your gifts to pursue your passions. Never doubt yourself or the ability to do amazing things.


Professor Andrew Lepp
Professor Andrew Lepp

Professor Andrew Lepp of Kent State University has qualified in diverse areas including mathematical economics, natural resource management, recreation parks and tourism. As with his qualifications, he also has experience in multifarious fields such as resource management and conservation, as warden of tourism in Uganda’s national park system and ecotourism. He has published many studies which among other areas relate to ICT and human behaviour, new media use, physical activity, sedentary behaviour, anxiety and life satisfaction. We are going to obtain his perspective and vision into a number of topics and fields.


Photos: From the Archive of Professor Lepp, Shutterstock / Photomontage: Martina Advaney

More from “Interview with Professor” series here.

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