Internet and gaming addiction – New research


Today it’s possible to live online: we can work, meet friends, buy groceries, pay bills and even see a doctor without ever stepping outside the front door. This isn’t just possible for a handful of people: an estimated 4.2 billion people have internet access worldwide – more than half of the global population, representing an increase of more than 1,000 percent since 2000.

For some of these people, the lure of constant connectivity can be problematic, and internet gaming is one place where addiction is rife. In this special collection, we present some of the latest research on internet gaming disorder (IGD) and other internet-related addiction problems, published in Addictive Behaviors and Addictive Behaviors Reports.

How worried should we be?

Not all 4.2 billion internet users will develop addiction problems, but for a small percentage, internet gaming can have a significant negative effect on their lives. According to an article in Addictive Behaviors, we don’t yet have an accurate estimate of how prevalent IGD is, with current estimates ranging from 2 to 15 percent, depending on where and what games people are playing, and how the survey was conducted.

In their article, the authors, from the University of Rhode Island and Stanford University in the US, explained why it’s an important to pay attention to the disorder: “For the majority of users, gaming may be harmless, and for some, may even yield benefits; however, in certain gamers, negative effects can approximate that of a gambling disorder.”

While they point out that there are potential benefits to gaming – such as educational, social and emotional benefits – they also believe action is required. Just as casinos offer information on gambling disorder, digital gaming companies could provide their customers with information about IGD, the authors say. “It’s important that we take a public health perspective in the future of IGD prevention and treatment,” commented lead author Dr. Faust.

The consequences of internet gaming disorder

Although there is much research to be done before we understand the full societal impact of IGD, there is already evidence of its impact on individuals. In their article in Addictive Behaviors Reports, researchers from Ulm University and the University of Bonn in Germany, and the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China found a link between internet addiction and a deficiency in implicit learning – the ability to learn complex information incidentally, like riding a bike or swimming.

In three studies, the team looked at the link between implicit learning abilities, problematic internet use and risk-taking. In the first study, male visitors to Gamescom in Cologne completed a short version of the Internet Addiction Test and the Online Gaming Addiction Scale (OGAS), and completed a task to determine their implicit learning abilities. The second study was the same as the first, but with a group of World of Warcraft players. In the third study, they modified the approach to measure risk-taking in healthy participants.

The results showed that internet addiction is negatively linked to implicit learning ability in men – that is, men with IGD had deficient implicit learning abilities. What’s more, the higher the participants scored on the OGAS, the more impulsive they were. Since risk-taking was linked to IGD in the healthy group, the researchers say this could make risk-taking a predictor of IGD in non-gamer populations.

IGD interventions

It seems there is a growing awareness of IGD and increasing calls for action, but is it a new problem?

In their article in Addictive Behaviors, a team from the University of California in the US looked at 27 studies on IGD published between 1998 and 2016, to determine whether the disorder is indeed becoming more prevalent. The average across all years was 4.7%, and the results showed it has not increased significantly in the last two decades.

The researchers wrote: “The most striking finding of this review of IGD prevalence over time was how little the measured prevalence has changed, despite 15 years of technological advancement, increased internet penetration around the world, and ever more sophisticated games available.”

However, the team has five recommendations for research to improve our understanding of the disorder: develop a consistent methodology in measuring IGD, study IGD in comparable populations and across age groups and cultures, get clear data to understand how IGD relates to other disorders, carry out longitudinal studies, and look at factors that could account for differences across cultures, regions, ages and genders.

In the meantime, there is evidence that certain aspects of mindfulness could help prevent problematic internet use. Researchers at the University of Deusto and Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain looked at the links between mindfulness and problematic internet use in adolescents.

In their article in Addictive Behaviors, the researchers describe their six-month study of 609 adolescents. The participants completed surveys to determine their level of problematic internet use and their mindfulness traits, by rating on a scale their agreement with different statements, such as “I find it difficult to control my Internet use.” They took both surveys at the start of the year, and the problematic internet use survey again six months later.

Of the five facets of mindfulness the team looked at – describing, observing, acting with awareness, non-judging and non-reacting – only non-judging predicted the participants would prefer face-to-face relationships over online ones. This facet also predicted reductions in the other aspects of problematic internet use. The dimensions observing and acting with awareness predicted better self-regulation of internet use and thereby less negative outcomes.

The researchers conclude: “These findings suggest that interventions should include approaches to develop those mindfulness facets that protect against the development of problematic Internet use.”

Read the collection

In this collection, we have compiled some of the latest research on internet gaming disorder (IGD) and problematic internet use, from the trends to the consequences and prevention strategies.

Problematic internet users' skin conductance and anxiety increase after exposure to the internet,” Addictive Behaviors, Volume 75, December 2017, Pages 70-74

Problematic internet use as an age-related multifaceted problem: Evidence from a two-site survey,” Addictive Behaviors, Volume 81, June 2018, Pages 157-166 – open access

Diffusion-weighted MRI measures suggest increased white-matter integrity in Internet gaming disorder: Evidence from the comparison with recreational Internet game users,” Addictive Behaviors, Volume 81, June 2018, Pages 32-38

Perceived parental monitoring and adolescent internet addiction: A moderated mediation model,” Addictive Behaviors, Volume 74, November 2017, Pages 48-54

Mindfulness facets and problematic Internet use: A six-month longitudinal study,” Addictive Behaviors, Volume 72, September 2017, Pages 57-63

Internet gaming disorder: Trends in prevalence 1998–2016,” Addictive Behaviors, Volume 75, December 2017, Pages 17-24

Internet gaming disorder: A sign of the times, or time for our attention?Addictive Behaviors, Volume 77, February 2018, Pages 272-274

Online activities, prevalence of Internet addiction and risk factors related to family and school among adolescents in China,” Addictive Behaviors Reports, Volume 7, June 2018, Pages 14-18 – open access

Individual differences in implicit learning abilities and impulsive behavior in the context of Internet addiction and Internet Gaming Disorder under the consideration of gender,” Addictive Behaviors Reports, Volume 5, June 2017, Pages 19-28 – open access

Smartphone addiction, daily interruptions and self-reported productivity,” Addictive Behaviors Reports, Volume 6, December 2017, Pages 90-95 – open access

Online-specific fear of missing out and Internet-use expectancies contribute to symptoms of Internet-communication disorder,” Addictive Behaviors Reports, Volume 5, June 2017, Pages 33-42 – open access

Video game addiction and psychological distress among expatriate adolescents in Saudi Arabia,” Addictive Behaviors Reports, Volume 6, December 2017, Pages 112-117 – open access