New research, conducted by Professor Phil Reed from Swansea University and his colleagues, challenges the idea of internet addiction, by proposing that internet addicts may be conditioned by what they view on the screen.
Their study was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. It is one of few of its kind that has included experiments into internet addiction, rather than surveying participants or examining what happens inside the brains of those who spend excessive amounts of time online.
Reed’s study involved 100 adult participants, who were divided into 2 groups, one was deprived access to the Internet for 4 hours, the other was not. Then they were asked to choose a color and complete a series of psychometric questionnaires concerning mood (Positive and Negative Affect Schedule), anxiety (Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory), and depression (Beck Depression Inventory). They were then given a 15-minute exposure to the Internet, and the Web sites they visited were monitored. Finally, they were asked to again choose a color, complete the same psychometric questionnaires, and an additional Internet Addiction Test (IAT).
People who scored highly on the IAT reported poor mood and increased anxiety after the deprivation period. They also shifted toward choosing the colour most prominent on the websites that they had just visited.
No such shift in mood or toward choosing the dominant website colour was seen in lower-problem users (those whose scored low on the IAT) or internet non-deprived people. Professor Phil Reed said: “That the internet addicts chose a colour associated with the websites they had just visited suggests that aspects of the websites viewed after a period without the net became positively valued.
The study also highlighted that over 25% of those who took the IAT indicated they used the internet so much that they had a mild – or worse – problem in terms of the internet interfering with their lives – commonly called ‘internet addiction’. Excessive internet use was also associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety.
On this, Reed commented: “The numbers involved suggest that there are a lot of people who may be unduly and possibly unconsciously influenced by the material that they see when they first turn on their computers, and that there may be a large number of individuals – mostly young – who experience periods of sensitivity to conditioning from the internet without even being aware of it”.