What is it about?

We test how one sec, a self-nudging app that is installed by the user on their smartphones in order to reduce the mindless use of apps, affects people’s behavior and satisfaction over the course of six weeks. When users attempt to open a target app of their choice, one sec intervenes with a pop-up screen that shows a brief message and the option to dismiss opening that target app. Our data on those attempts show that this simple intervention helps users over the course of 6 weeks to open their target apps 57% less. Importantly, this is not exclusively due to one sec intervening. The app also has a learning effect so that users attempt to open their target apps less in the first place.

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Why is it important?

Research suggests that smartphone use has various effects on our physical and psychological well-being. When people consume mindlessly the effects are predominantly negative. Instead of being implemented within the problematic digital environments themselves (e.g., Social Media), smartphone apps offer a unique opportunity for interventions. They are applicable to different environments and more transparent than other, common interventions, because they allow users to self-direct their smartphone use without relying on external interventions.


With the increasing opportunities in the digital worlds we interact with, we should not lose sight of their growing complexity and risks. At the same time, researchers’ goals should not be to patronize and direct users. Instead, an effective intervention seeks to foster users' competency to direct and manage themselves. We have made an important step in this direction with testing one sec, presenting the first widely viable self-directed app intervention for this purpose. This research shows that it is critical to explore the vast space of opportunities that exist for users to create their own digital environment. Instead of getting exploited by digital technology, users should, ultimately, be architects of their own digital worlds.

David Joachim Grüning
University of Heidelberg & GESIS - Leibniz Insitute for the Social Sciences

I built one sec for myself in the very first lockdown of 2020, because I spent way too much time on Instagram and online news. As an app developer, I always tend to solve my problems by building new apps…the idea of one sec was born. After using the prototype for two weeks myself, I noticed my screen time was down 44% – and decided to polish the app and publish it on the AppStore. The app gained traction quickly, and mainly received 5-star ratings on the AppStore. At the end of 2020, David J. Grüning and Philipp Lorenz-Spreen approached me because they were fascinated by the self-nudging capabilities of one sec. We ended up collaborating and conducted the field-experiment that led to this publication. The strong results of the experiment back up what I hear every day from my apps’ users: one sec helps them to find a healthy balance with technology for the first time in years: long-term and sustainably! I strongly hope that we are at a tipping point with advertising-backed business-models in internet platforms (e.g., Instagram, TikTok). Only being focused on increasing users’ eye-ball-time leads to too many mental-health issues, and more and more users seem to notice. For the last decade, we have been focusing too much on how to make users addicted to our apps. I really hope this decade will fix much of that. Do you know anyone who enjoys spending a large portion of they life on TikTok?

Frederik Riedel
riedel.wtf GmbH

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Directing smartphone use through the self-nudge app one sec, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2023, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2213114120.
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