Recent media headlines suggesting that the Internet, particularly social media sites are not only addictive but can lead to depression and other emotional problems have left one key component out of their discussions, namely those types of people who are most at risk. To find that answer, Joseph Mazer, assistant professor at Clemson University and Andrew M. Ledbetter, assistant professor at Texas Christian University undertook a study to determine if there is a subclass of personality types that are more likely to become compulsive regarding their Internet use, and if so, what it might mean for them. They have published the results of their research in Southern Communication Journal. IT World in reviewing the research says that people can use their study to look at themselves to see if they are at risk of becoming compulsive users and if so what they should do about it.
As with most studies of this kind, the team undertook several surveys asking young people in particular about their Internet habits and also of course their emotional state. But they took their surveys one step further by also asking the respondents about their personalities in general and if they had any prior history of mental illness or treatment.
After analyzing the data they’d obtained, the two researchers found what appears to be a correlation between those people who have poor face-to-face communication skills or who are generally anxious in real world social engagements, and those who tended to report habits that might be construed as compulsive regarding their Internet use. They also found that a person’s comfort level regarding self exposure, rose when communicating with other’s online, as opposed to in person. Two factors they say that can contribute to a person becoming more engaged in online transactions.
The thinking goes, they report, that because human beings have certain traits, such as the release of chemicals such as dopamine in the brain when positive interpersonal communications occur, due to the positive reinforcement of self image, they tend to gravitate towards situations where such chemicals can be released. In some instances this comes about through the use of drugs. But with the Internet, especially where there is an ability to communicate virtually, such as having another person click that they “like” something a user has posted on Facebook, those very same chemicals can be released, flooding the brain with pleasure, which is of course, the root of virtually all addictions. For people that can’t get that pleasure rush in the real world but are able to find it in online communications, the groundwork is laid for serious abuse, resulting in what the two call, Compulsive Internet Use (CIU), which like any other disorder must be recognized before it can be treated. Their study, they say, is a first step in that direction.