Internet addiction is a relatively new term, and its precise definition and classification are still being hotly debated in clinical arenas. In general terms, Internet addiction refers to problematic Internet usage, most often for gambling or pornography. Internet addiction does not just imply a high level of use; it implies excessive use at the expense of other activities. Those who have an Internet addiction often become so compelled to use the Internet that they avoid family obligations, work, and social relationships, according to the limited research on Internet addiction.
Until now, no research has looked specifically at how using the Internet impacts the psychological state of someone who has an Internet addiction compared to someone who is not addicted to the Internet. In an effort to provide some necessary data in this area, Michela Romano of the University of Milan in Italy recently conducted a study involving 60 college-aged participants.
Romano evaluated the moods of the participants before and after they were exposed to the Internet for 15 minutes. The participants were assessed for self-esteem, isolation, depression, ADHD, impulsivity, and aggression as these characteristics are common among individuals with various types of addictions. Additionally, Romano conducted a psychological analysis on all of the participants to determine which participants had an Internet addiction versus those who did not, and to isolate any unique personality factors.
The results revealed that those who demonstrated symptoms of Internet addiction were negatively impacted after the exposure. Specifically, these participants had significantly worse mood states after exposure compared to the participants who did not demonstrate symptoms of Internet addiction. The participants with Internet addiction were more likely than the others to demonstrate symptoms of depression, isolation, and impulsivity.
However, a novel finding revealed that those with Internet addiction were also more likely to have autistic traits. Romano believes this could partly explain the relationship between isolation and Internet addiction, but more work should be done in this area. Additionally, Romano found that over half of the participants had scores indicating problematic Internet behavior. This is concerning considering the high comorbidity of negative mood states and Internet addiction. “Taken together with previous findings,” said Romano, “These results help to build a picture of the distal and proximal causes of excessive Internet usage.”
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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