Social networking sites and other forms of social media have become a mainstay of modern culture. People of all ages engage in Internet and media use on a regular basis, relying on Twitter, Facebook, and Google to keep them connected to people, places, and things throughout their communities and the world. But for some people, Internet use can become problematic. Addiction to the Internet or problematic Internet use (PIU) can negatively affect a person’s life in a number of ways. For college students, relying on virtual relationships and social circles can inhibit important physical social development. However, it is not clear who is most likely to develop PIU and why.
Joseph Anthony De Leo of the Department Of Psychology at the University of Albany, State University of New York recently conducted a study to find out which college students were most at risk for PIU and what factors and personality traits contributed to that risk. Using data collected from a variety of student participants, De Leo assessed how externalizing and internalizing behaviors influenced PIU. He found that in contrast to theories about problem behavior, externalizing behaviors such as drug use, impulsivity, and antisocial attitudes did not predict PIU. Also, academic performance did not predict PIU in the participants. However, internalizing behaviors, specifically anxiety and depression, were present in more participants with PIU than without PIU.
This finding suggests that perhaps individuals use the Internet as a way to interact socially without having to experience the anxiety or stress that could exist in an in-person encounter. De Leo also noticed that students with high levels of family conflict were at increased risk for PIU. Again, Internet use could begin as a way of avoiding stressful situations, but if used as a replacement for real life engagement, could potentially become problematic. De Leo believes that this study sheds light on some of the reasons that motivate people to immerse themselves in Internet activity, but does not fully reveal the scope of consequences resulting from PIU. “Future studies should examine the particular functions that online behaviors serve for individual users and likewise identify what adaptive functions are impaired by excessive involvement in specific Internet activities,” said De Leo.
De Leo, J. A., and Wulfert, E. (2012). Problematic Internet use and other risky behaviors in college students: An application of problem-behavior theory. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030823
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