The research on Internet addiction has grown rapidly in recent years. Some evidence suggests that people who are addicted to the Internet demonstrate symptoms similar to those found in other addictions. For instance, existing psychological problems and maladaptive behaviors such as depression, low self-esteem, attention deficit hyperactivity, impulsivity, risk-taking, and sensation-seeking are all common risk factors for addiction to gambling, pornography, and even sex. But until now, no study has looked the direct emotional effect of Internet use on people with these risk factors, in comparison to people without. Michela Romano of the University of Milan in Italy decided to study people addicted to the Internet during and after Internet use compared to those who were not addicted.
Romano enlisted 60 young adult men and women to participate in the study. The participants were assessed for addiction, anxiety, mood, autism, depression, and psychosis. They were allowed to use the Internet for 15 minutes, after which time they were reevaluated for anxiety and mood. Romano found that those with addictive traits were more likely to have impulsive behavior, depression, or autistic characteristics. They also had sharp drops in mood after they stopped using the Internet, compared to those who had no Internet addiction. The results suggest that perhaps these individuals use the Internet to return their moods to positive states, similar to how individuals addicted to pornography, gambling, and sex continually engage in negative behaviors.
The results also showed a link between autism and Internet addiction. Romano believes that isolation, which is common for people with autism, may increase Internet use for these individuals. Additionally, depression, which was also found to be higher in those addicted to the Internet, has an isolation element and could increase risk for Internet addiction. One final interesting finding was the finding relating to gender. Romano added, “The gender split of those with problematic Internet use versus those without was even, suggesting that typical views of Internet addiction as a male problem are (certainly, now) unfounded.” Overall, these findings provide new insight into risk factors for and behaviors associated with Internet addiction. Future work should extend these findings and focus also on ways to decrease the negative impact of Internet use on those at risk for addiction.
Romano, M., Osborne, L.A., Truzoli, R., Reed, P. (2013). Differential psychological impact of Internet exposure on Internet addicts. PLoS ONE 8(2): e55162. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055162
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