Addicted Internet users present with higher rates of comorbidities, e.g., attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depressive, and anxiety disorders. In addition, deficits in self-concept-related characteristics were found in addicted Internet gamers and social network users. The aim of this study was to examine the links between healthy, problematic, and addicted Internet use regarding comorbidities and self-concept-related characteristics. The association between recently developed ADHD-like symptoms without an underlying diagnosis and addictive Internet use was also examined.
n = 79 healthy controls, n = 35 problematic, and n = 93 addicted Internet users were assessed for comorbidities, social and emotional competencies, body image, self-esteem, and perceived stress. Apart from an ADHD-diagnosis, recently developed ADHD-like symptoms were also assessed.
Addicted users showed more self-concept-related deficits and higher rates of comorbidities with ADHD, depressive, and anxiety disorders. Addicted and problematic users showed similarities in the prevalence of cluster B personality disorders and decreased levels of characteristics related to emotional intelligence. Participants with recently developed ADHD-like symptoms scored higher in lifetime and current severity of Internet use compared with those without ADHD symptoms. Addicted participants with recently developed ADHD symptoms showed higher lifetime Internet use severity compared with those without any symptoms.
Our findings indicate that cluster B personality disorders and premorbid problems in emotional intelligence might present a link between problematic and addictive Internet use. Furthermore, the findings provide a first indication that addictive Internet use is related to ADHD-like symptoms. Symptoms of ADHD should therefore be assessed against the background of possible addicted Internet use.
Internet gaming addiction appears to be related to self-concept deficits and increased angular gyrus (AG)-related identification with one’s avatar. For increased social network use, a few existing studies suggest striatal-related positive social feedback as an underlying factor. However, whether an impaired self-concept and its reward-based compensation through the online presentation of an idealized version of the self are related to pathological social network use has not been investigated yet. We aimed to compare different stages of pathological Internet game and social network use to explore the neural basis of avatar and self-identification in addictive use.
About 19 pathological Internet gamers, 19 pathological social network users, and 19 healthy controls underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while completing a self-retrieval paradigm, asking participants to rate the degree to which various self-concept-related characteristics described their self, ideal, and avatar. Self-concept-related characteristics were also psychometrically assessed.
Psychometric testing indicated that pathological Internet gamers exhibited higher self-concept deficits generally, whereas pathological social network users exhibit deficits in emotion regulation only. We observed left AG hyperactivations in Internet gamers during avatar reflection and a correlation with symptom severity. Striatal hypoactivations during self-reflection (vs. ideal reflection) were observed in social network users and were correlated with symptom severity.
Discussion and conclusion
Internet gaming addiction appears to be linked to increased identification with one’s avatar, evidenced by high left AG activations in pathological Internet gamers. Addiction to social networks seems to be characterized by emotion regulation deficits, reflected by reduced striatal activation during self-reflection compared to during ideal reflection.