Young adults who are heavy users of the Internet may also exhibit signs of addiction, scientists, including Indian-origin researchers, have found.
Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology, Duke University Medical Center and the Duke Institute of Brain Sciences compared Internet usage with measures of addiction.
The research, presented on December 18 at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Conference on Advanced Networks and Telecommunications Systems in Chennai, India, tracked the Internet usage of 69 college students over two months.
It revealed a correlation between certain types of Internet usage and addictive behaviours.
"The findings provide significant new insights into the association between Internet use and addictive behaviour," said Dr Sriram Chellappan, an assistant professor of computer science at Missouri S&T and the lead researcher of the study.
At the beginning of the study, the 69 students completed a 20-question survey called the Internet-Related Problem Scale (IRPS). The IRPS measures the level of problem a person is having due to Internet usage, on a scale of 0 to 200.
This scale was developed to identify characteristics of addiction, such as introversion, withdrawal, craving, tolerance and negative life consequences.
The researchers simultaneously tracked the campus Internet usage of participating students over two months.
Chellappan, working with Dr P Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Duke University Medical Center, found that the range of IRPS scores among participating students over the two-month period ranged from 30 to 134 on the 200-point scale.
The average score was 75. Participants' total Internet usage ranged from 140 megabytes to 51 gigabytes, with an average of 7 gigabytes.
The subjects' Internet usage was divided into several categories, including gaming, chatting, file downloading, email, browsing and social networking (Facebook and Twitter).
The total IRPS scores exhibited the highest correlations with gaming, chatting and browsing, and the lowest with email and social networking.
The researchers also observed that specific symptoms measured by the scale correlated with specific categories of Internet usage. They found that introversion was closely tied to gaming and chatting; craving to gaming, chatting and file downloading; and loss of control to gaming.
"About 5 to 10 per cent of all Internet users appear to show web dependency, and brain imaging studies show that compulsive Internet use may induce changes in some brain reward pathways that are similar to that seen in drug addiction," said Doraiswamy.
The team cautioned that the current study is exploratory and does not establish a cause and effect relationship between Internet usage and addictive behaviour.
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