The following article is a summary of the review paper entitled, “Prefrontal control and Internet addiction: a theoretical model and review of neuropsychological and neuroimaging findings” by Brand, Matthias, Kimberly Young and Christian Laier, as published 27 May 2014 in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience*:
While many people have control over their Internet usage and use it as a tool, some have lost that self control, resulting in negative and social personal consequences. This conclusion is based on a review of existing literature and on the authors’ experiences.
The world-wide scientific community has not yet standardized terminology nor testing related to Internet overuse that results in psychosocial distress. Nor has sufficient research been performed. In fact, the standard reference for American’s mental disorders, the DSM-5, includes only Internet Gaming Disorder. Certainly, however, other Internet-related disorders do occur.
The authors of the review article seek to determine why some people experience loss of self-control related to the Internet. Their hypothesis is that the loss of control occurs in part due to Internet-cues disrupting prefrontal processes.
One model of Internet Addiction states that addiction is linked to either a poor off-line social support and the negative feelings that result from that, or from a pre-disposition for a specific addiction (such as pornography) that happens to be available online. The authors add to this model the effect of negative and positive reinforcements that condition behavior. Expectations can also play a role in creating or maintaining addictive behavior. Expectancies, goals and needs, personality traits, predispositions and mental/emotional disorders can also play a role.
Our prefrontal cortex has been linked to our ability to control conscious behavior. The results of a study that utilized the Game of Dice Task, “suggest that patients with Internet addiction may have reductions in prefrontal control and other executive functioning.”
Neuroimaging has shown that excessive or frequent Internet gaming can change the volume of cells in various areas of the brain. While one study mentioned in the paper reported increased gray matter density, the other studies reported a reduced volume. Other studies provide tentative suggestions that people with Internet addiction have a modified dopamine system that may play a role in loss of control.
Research on Internet Addiction is increasing and tends to indicate that functional changes in certain areas of the brain are correlated to Internet addiction. Indeed, it appears "that prefrontal control processes are reduced in individuals who are addicted to the Internet and may be related to the patients’ loss of control over their Internet use."
Nevertheless, more research is needed on (1) stimuli related to the Internet and brain function, (2) "different types of Internet addiction," and (3) on women. Additionally, research that has already been performed needs to be repeated in different countries and on another age group (i.e., if the research has been done on adults, it needs to be done on adolescents, and vice versa).
People with lower pre-frontal control processes seem to have less ability to utilize coping mechanisms. This, tied with the reinforcements offered by the Internet, create a myopic, Internet-based view of the world. All of this needs to be taken into account by the clinician.
In conclusion, research on Internet Addiction has produced similar results to research on other forms of addiction. The authors of this review agree with other authors in that "this clinically relevant disorder should be classified as a behavioral addiction."
*You can read the original article here: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00375/full