Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Internet addiction motivation

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Internet addiction motivation:
What motivates internet addiction?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Have you ever spent your day scrolling through Facebook, playing online games or doing things on the internet that took you away from studying - that you ended up having to pull an all nighter doing an assignment or cramming for exams?

Have you ever found yourself telling friends/family that you’re too busy to catch up at the moment? Even if you actually spend a good 2 hours on Facebook everyday.

Have you ever spent your time at work online shopping, reading the news or using social media when you were meant to be working?

Have you ever gone to dinner with friends, only to find yourselves all looking at your phones?

If this is you, read on to find out more about internet addiction. If this is not you, read on anyway to find out more about this fascinating addiction that affects people from all over the world (Ferraro, Caci, D’Amico & Di Blasi, 2007).

Internet addiction[edit | edit source]

Over the years, the internet has become an essential part of life (Murali & George, 2007). Ivan Goldberg (Tonioni et al., 2012) was the first to come up with the term Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD). Despite this identification, there is controversy on whether IAD exists, what it is and what defines it and it is yet to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) Fifth Edition. However there is plenty of research on the prominence of internet addiction.

Figure 1. Cyberspace provides opportunity to escape from reality

Numerous researchers have attempted to explain IAD characteristics (Murali et al. 2007). One explanation is that cyberspace is used as temporary escape from problems in everyday life, with the problems staying the same or made worse whilst being online. Individuals with IAD lose themselves in virtual reality to escape from unwanted feelings.

Adolescents are more susceptible to internet addiction as they have decreased ability to control their compulsions on the internet (Cheng-Fang, Chih-Hung, Ju-Yu, Yu-Ping & Chung-Ping, 2009). Adolescents who have internet addiction are caught up in their own world in cyberspace, abandon other creative activities and ruin their real life relationships[factual?].

Lastly, there are potential physiological reasons behind internet addiction (Brand, Young & Laier, 2014). Research implies that internet addiction is in relation to brain changes that include areas of the prefrontal cortex, along with changes in other cortical and subcortical regions[factual?]. It has been found that individuals who are addicted to the internet may have decreased prefrontal control processes, which is possibly linked to the individuals’ lowered control of their internet usage[factual?].

Types of internet addiction[edit | edit source]

Young (1996) (as cited in Shaw & Black, 2008) created five subtypes of internet addiction:

  • Computer addiction - Individuals are addicted to games and play them at the expense of disrupting family and work obligations.
  • Information overload - Individuals spend a lot of time looking for, collecting and organising information.
  • Net compulsions - Compulsive behaviours such as online gambling, shopping or stock trading; with potential for major financial losses.
  • Cyber-sexual - Individuals view, download and trade online pornography or take part in adult fantasy role-play chat rooms.
  • Cyber relationships - Individuals who are excessively engaged in online relationships and may be involved in virtual adultery; the online relationships take precedence over real life relationships.

More recently, social networking addiction (Salehan & Negahban, 2013) and online gaming addiction (Kuss, Louws & Wiers, 2012) have become more prominent.

Social Networking Sites addiction[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Diagram depicting the many different types of social media

Social Networking Sites (SNSs) are communities where individuals are able to make their own public profile, network with real life friends and meet other individuals or groups in a virtual space (Kuss & Griffiths, 2011). Extraverts are more likely to use SNSs for social enhancement whereas introverts are more likely to use it for social compensation (Wilson, Fornasier & White, 2010). Individuals are able to present themselves in ways that will improve their mood state and it is a pleasurable experience, but this could lead to SNSs addiction (Kuss et al. 2011). Joinson (2008) described the motives behind SNS use as building social capital, communication, social networking surfing, surveillance and content gratification.

Online gaming addiction[edit | edit source]

Online gaming has increased over the years (Mehroof & Griffiths, 2010). Massively|Multiplayers Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) can be described as a game which contains a virtual realm that numerous players around the world live in at the same time, become a different identity and interact with each other in various ways (Kuss, Louws & Wiers, 2012).

Figure 3. Student using Laptop Photo by: techsrc2371

The motivations behind the desire to play these games include achievement, mechanics, socialising, teamwork discovery, role-playing and escapism (Kuss et al. 2012). Mehroof & Griffiths (2010) found that personality traits such as aggression, state anxiety, trait anxiety, sensation seeking and neuroticism were significantly correlated with online gaming addiction.

Issues[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Internet Addiction Disorder[edit | edit source]

The criteria for Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) are founded on the occurrence of three of the following signs for a minimum of one year including: agitation of the psychomotor system (such as nausea, shivering and tremors), obsessive thoughts about the internet, unstable moods, anxiety, uncontrolled typing, craving and the continuation of internet use despite individual and social conflicts and constant internet connections (Ferraro, Caci, D’Amico & Di Blasi, 2007).

Figure 4. Inside my head cropped [explain?]

IAD is characterised by symptoms that include mood alteration, tolerance, abstinence, conflicts and behavioural dominance. IAD develops in two ways: individuals who are addicted to the internet live in a phase likened to drug obsession by obsessively checking emails, social networking sites and web surfing and they live in a phase likened to drug mania by creation of multiple selves via chat rooms and virtual role playing games. The prevalence of IAD has been recorded in several studies globally including countries such as Australia, America, China, Pakistan, and Taiwan. Studies within these countries have shown that quantity of time spent on the internet is correlated to IAD development. Research has also shown that males are more likely to acquire IAD in comparison to females and it is more prominent in younger people.

DSM-V[edit | edit source]

Although IAD has definitive characteristics it is yet to be recognised within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) Fifth Edition (Tonioni et al., 2012). Research is yet to agree on one definition of extreme internet usage and currently the definitions include: internet addiction, pathological internet use, compulsive internet use and problematic internet use. There is controversy about what constitutes internet addiction, although consequences such as interference with personal relationships and personal functioning appear to be consistent amongst studies. In a study conducted by Ahn (2007) (as cited in Tonioni et al., 2012) they found 86% of the individuals in the study presented with another disorder, therefore excessive use of the internet could simply be a symptom of another underlying disorder. Further research needs to be done on the psychological symptoms of IAD, in order to determine if IAD should be considered a psychopathological disorder or if it is merely a behavioural characteristic of another psychopathological disorder. If there is an underlying disorder, an understanding of which came first should be an integral focus. Pies (2009) acknowledges the fact that although there is a vast amount of research on what has been termed internet addiction, it does not reach the criteria required to define a disorder in the DSM-V. Much research needs to be done on the physiological aspects, pharmacological and psychosocial treatment processes, how stable the illness is over time and any genetic influences.

Assessment of internet addiction disorder[edit | edit source]

At present, there are several ways to assess IAD (Chang & Law, 2008).

  • Internet Addiction Test (IAT) obtains information regarding the individuals use of the internet, thoughts about the internet and any issues due to internet use (Chang et al. 2008).
  • Chen’s Internet Addiction Scale (CIAS) assesses tolerance, withdrawal, symptoms of internet addiction, issues in relation to negative impacts on social activities, relationships, physical health, time management and compulsive use (Kuss, Griffiths, Karila & Billieux, 2013).
  • Generalised Problematic Internet Use Scale (GPIUS) assesses perceived social control online, withdrawal symptoms when not using the internet, alteration of mood, perception of social benefits online, negative consequences when online (Beard, 2005).

Despite the amount of assessment tools being used to assess internet addiction, they have been criticised (Beard, 2005). Criticisms include over generalisations and all assessment tools are self-report measures and this can lead to self-preservation, misinterpretation of the questions and response bias. One way that these limitations can be addressed are via clinical interview. An interview could assess the strength of the problematic behaviour, how the behaviour has influenced the individuals life and how motivated the individual is to change. Although this method can be costly and time consuming.

Issues with internet addiction[edit | edit source]

There are several issues with internet addiction (Kim, LaRose & Peng, 2009). Caplan (2006) (as cited in Kim, LaRose & Peng, 2009) theorised that loneliness and depression often precede problematic internet use (PIU). Individuals who are lonely or depressed have an increased likelihood to turn to online interactions because they see online relationships as simpler than real life communication because of their increased anonymity.

Figure 6. Lonely boy Photo by: Arief Rahman Saan (Ezagren)

According to Davis (1996) (as cited in Kim, LaRose & Peng, 2009), loneliness is a causal reason for PIU. In comparison to real life, individuals who are lonely favour interacting online because they feel they can express who they are online in a much better way. When lonely individuals are unable to make successful real life connections they think that this is due to their poor social skills, hence turning to PIU. Furthermore, a different view is that due to excessive internet use an individual can isolate themselves from their personal relationships and withdraw from face to face social interactions potentially leading to dysphoria (a general dissatisfaction with life).

Other issues include the effect of internet addiction on adolescents (Cheng-Fang, et al., 2009). Adolescents with depression are more likely to report experiencing pleasure of being able to control and gain respect from other people online. A reason for this could be that it makes up for any real life imperfections and this could lead to addiction. Research has also shown that internet addiction is related to ADHD symptoms (Ju-Yu, Chih-Hung, Cheng-Fang, Hsiu-Yueh & Ming-Jen, 2007). Ju-Yu et al. (2007) indicated that individuals with ADHD enjoy rewards more than those who do not have ADHD. Therefore, gaming on the internet which delivers rewards could gratify adolescents with ADHD more so than those without it. 

Motives[edit | edit source]

Motives behind internet addiction
Figure 7. Wikipedia Academy Bethesda 2009

Leung (2007) stated that the motives underlying internet addiction was passing time, entertainment, information, relaxation, arousal, escape, habit and companionship. Finn and Gorr (as cited in Leung, 2007) likened internet addiction motives to television viewing motives. He devised two aspects founded on human needs. Firstly, was the need to satisfy lack of social interactions; and secondly, was the psychological requirement to normalise human interaction. By using the internet, individuals were able to feel less lonely and/or reduce their stress associated with having moderate to extreme levels of low social interaction. The internet provides avenues such as email, and instant messaging so this appears to satisfy any social insufficiencies. Moreover, the internet is able to provide social maintenance and recognition as well as relationship building through other ways such as online gaming and social networking sites. The other motivations that emerge from the use of these sites include social bonding, displaying affection and interpersonal functions therefore compensating for any social deficiencies. The uses and gratifications theory has also been used to describe the information and entertainment motivations behind internet addiction (see Uses and Gratifications theory). Furthermore, Knobloch (as cited in Leung, 2007) indicated that individuals used the internet to regulate their moods that consist of anxious thoughts and substitute moods related to dysphoria; and change them to more pleasurable moods. Haridakis and Kim (2009) indicated that the motives behind internet use such as information seeking and social interaction form the habits that lead to internet addiction. Despite this research, there is still much research that needs to be done in this area as the emergence of the internet is relatively new and continues to evolve.

Theory[edit | edit source]

Emily is a university student who is studying Psychology. She is fairly studious but sometimes she gets distracted easily, especially by using the internet too much. Emily will be used as an example throughout the following theoretical explanations behind the motivation towards internet addiction.

Cognitive Behavioural Theory[edit | edit source]

Based on the cognitive behavioural theory, Davis (2001) (as cited in Murali & George, 2007) suggests that problematic internet use (PIU) is comparable to internet addiction and could be explained by internet related cognitions and behaviours. According to the cognitive behavioural theory, both cognitions and behaviours were the reasons behind an individual being unable to control their internet use (Shih-Ming & Teng-Ming, 2006). An individuals thoughts and cognitions were at the foundation of unusual behaviour (Widyanto and Griffiths, 2006). Davis implied that emotional and behavioural symptoms were not the cause of cognitive symptoms of PIU but rather the opposite, PIU cognitive symptoms were the source of emotional and behavioural symptoms. The psychopathology (such as underlying social anxiety, depression) of an individual was considered the instigator of PIU and it was followed by maladaptive cognitions. Maladaptive cognitions include how an individual sees themselves and how they see the world. How individuals perceive themselves, is directed by how they contemplate things. Due to interruption with behaviour and problem solving, an individual ponders on things; then they are more likely to experience rigorous and longer bouts of PIU. Self-doubt, low self-efficacy and negative self-evaluation are examples of cognitive distortions. These types of cognitions would direct an individuals[grammar?] behaviour and could potentially cause excessive use of the internet. Limitations of this theory are that it is too focused on the individual and does not account for social reasons. Moreover, cognitions are difficult to measure quantitatively.

If this was Emily she would often think about whether she would pass the units she is taking and worry she was not smart enough. Rather than studying, she would spend her time on social media.

Social Skills Deficit Theory[edit | edit source]

Figure 8. Depression-loss of loved one

Caplan (2013) (as cited in Widyanto & Griffiths, 2014) used Davis’ theory as the foundation of his model and suggested that challenging psychosocial susceptibilities, were the reason behind individuals' excessive and compulsive social interactions on the computer therefore intensifying their issues. Caplan theorised that in comparison to others, individuals who had psychosocial issues such as loneliness perceived their social competence negatively and viewed computer interactions as a lower threat; hence their preference was for computer interactions over face to face and they also saw themselves as being more proficient in an online space. This would result in disproportionate and compulsive use of computer interactions leading to issues at home, school and work. Communications via computer interactions provide individuals an opportunity to present themselves in a way they want to and eliminate any negative or harmful information (Shaw & Black, 2015). Individuals are able to exaggerate and fabricate the positive features of themselves. In doing so, they are able to control how others see them through the use of the internet. Social interaction on the internet provides the user with anonymity, ease of communication, an increased sense of private self awareness and a decreased sense of public self awareness. Caplan conducted a study in 2013 to determine the relationship between occurrence of cognitive and behavioural symptoms of PIU and the individuals negative affects. The results showed that problematic internet use was largely contributed by preference for online socialisation. Limitations of this theory are that it does not account for cognitions and it is heavily based on social expectations. Furthermore, it does not go into the effect of positive social perceptions and their effect on internet use.

In Emily's case, she would have very few friends and often feel lonely. She makes up for this by playing online games where she is very popular because the character she plays is strong and confident, which is how she wishes she was in real life.

Uses and Gratification Theory[edit | edit source]

The uses and gratification theory (U&G) proposed that communication behaviours are driven by an individuals' fundamental need (Kim & Haridakis, 2009). Certain individual factors, what the use is intended for, media expectations and media content determined the intended and unintended use of the internet. Hence there are no overall approaches to how everyone uses the internet, and it is rather individualistic based on satisfaction of needs. How an individual chooses and uses a particular form of communication is heavily circumstantial and influenced by an individuals’ psychological and social need. A variety of factors function together to determine what form of media an individual chooses. For instance, some of the motivators are entertainment, arousal, information seeking, surveillance, passing time, escaping and relaxation (Leung, 2007). As a result people differ in how they use the media messages that the internet conveys even though they are the same (Sheldon, 2007). The theory conveys that individuals are differentiated by what they seek from the media via their gratifications. More specifically, the gratifications can be broken up categorically: personal relationship (social interactions and substitution of media for relationships), personal identity (self awareness and understanding and reinforcement of values), diversion (problem escapism and release of emotions) and surveillance. As a whole, the U&G theory spotlights media use motivations, the factors influencing these motives and any media related behavioural outcomes. Chou, Congron and Belland (2005) conducted a study on the use-gratification characteristic of internet use and they found that gratification was a strong predictor for internet addiction. Limitations of this theory are that it is too focused on the individual and it does not explain how the internet gratifies a need. These needs are also unable to be measured therefore unable to provide researchers with quantifiable data.

In the case of Emily, she would spend her time on online dating sites and chat rooms. By talking to people online her personal relationships are gratified.

How to deal with internet addiction[edit | edit source]

There are several ways to deal with internet addiction (Murali et al. 2007). These include:

Table 1. How to deal with internet addiction

Practice the opposite Break online routine and habit by practicing the opposite via introduction of neutral activities. For instance, if an individual usually spends all weekend on the internet, spend Saturday morning playing a sport.
External stoppers Using reminders to prompt the individual to log off eg. An alarm clock.
Goal setting Using a daily or weekly planner that indicates times to be able to use the internet. Initially the times can be frequent but short. This can give the individual a feeling of control over how much they use the internet.
Reminder cards The individual can write down the negative impacts of excessive internet use (eg. Strained personal relationships) and the benefits of minimising internet use (ie. Can focus on work more). These cards are designed to be with the individual all the time so they can remind them in times of weakness.
Personal inventory Before using the internet, the individual can reflect upon the hobbies and interests they have lost due to excessive internet use. Therefore reigniting their interest for hobbies and interests outside of the internet.
Abstinence Recommended if all other methods have not worked for a specific activity. The individual can abstain from a certain internet activity and use other activities in moderation.
Support groups An individual can benefit from joining a support group so they can meet other people who are experiencing the same issues. By being a part of this type of social group face to face, it enables the individual to be less reliant upon internet reassurance and comfort.
Family therapy Educating family members on the individuals treatment can reduce any blame, aid in opening up communication and encourage the recovery.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Cognitive therapy recognises any maladaptive cognitions the individual may have and attempts to change them to assist the individual in creating alternative cognitions. Individuals are shown how to monitor their thoughts and recognise the thoughts that produce addictive feelings and actions. After this thought recognition, individuals are taught new coping mechanisms and how to avoid relapse. At first the focus is on behaviour and is then followed by focusing on cognitive distortions (Young, 2009).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Internet addiction is an issue that is evaluated, assessed and critiqued in various ways[vague] (Young, 2009). There is still plenty of research that needs to be done in order to determine the prevalence of internet addiction, the causes and the treatments[vague]. However, the internet is an integral part to living in many societies and there are many positive aspects to internet use; therefore use of the internet in moderation would be the best way to incorporate internet use in daily life.

See also[edit | edit source]


Addiction and motivation

Behavioral addiction

Video game addiction motivation

References[edit | edit source]

Ahn, D. (2007). Korean policy on treatment and rehabilitation for 
adolescents, Internet addiction, International Symposium on the Counseling and Treatment of Youth Internet Addiction, 4, 49.

Beard, K. (2005). Internet addiction: a review of current assessment techniques and potential assessment questions, Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 8, 7-14. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2005.8.7

Brand, M., Young, K. & Laier, C. (2014). Prefrontal control and internet addiction: a theoretical model and review of neuropsychological and neuroimaging findings, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 1-13. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00375

Chang, M. & Law, S. (2008). Factor structure for young’s internet addiction test: a confirmatory study, Computers in Human Behavior, 24, 2597–2619. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2008.03.001

Cheng-Fang, Y., Chih-Hung, K., Ju-Yu, Y., Yu-Ping, C. & Chung-Ping, C. (2009). Multi-dimensional discriminative factors for Internet addiction among adolescents regarding gender and age, Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 63, 357-364. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1819.2009.01969.x

Chou, C., Condron, L. & Belland, J. (2005). A review of the research on internet addiction, Educational Psychology Review, 17, 363-388. doi: 10.1007/s10648-005-8138-1   Ferraro, G., Caci, B., D’Amico, A. & Di Blasi, M. (2007). Internet addiction disorder: an Italian study, Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 10, 170-175. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2006.9972

Joinson, A. (2008). ‘Looking at’, ‘Looking up’ or ‘Keeping up with’ People? Motives and Uses of Facebook, Online Social Networks, 8, 1027-1036. doi: 10.1145/1357054.1357213

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Kim, J., LaRose, R. & Peng, W. (2009). Loneliness as the cause and the effect of problematic internet use: the relationship between internet use and psychological well-being, Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 12, 451-455. doi: 10.1089=cpb.2008.0327

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Murali, V. & George, S. (2007). Lost online:
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Pies, R. (2009). Should DSM-V designate “internet addiction” a mental disorder?, Psychiatry, 6, 31–37. Retrieved from:

Salehan, M. & Negahban, A. (2013). Social networking on smartphones: When mobile phones become addictive, Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 2632–2639. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2013.07.003

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Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M. (2006). ‘Internet addiction’: a critical review, International Journal of Mental Health Addiction, 4, 31-51. doi: 10.1007/s11469-006-9009-9

Wilson, K., Fornasier, S. & White, K. (2010). Psychological predictors of young adults’ use of social networking sites, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 13, 173-177. doi: 10.1089=cyber.2009.0094

Young, K. (2009). Understanding online gaming addiction and treatment issues for adolescents, The American Journal of Family Therapy, 37, 355–372. doi: 10.1080/01926180902942191

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External links[edit | edit source]