It seems that with every new technological advancement, a panic arises over addiction to that advancement. Addiction to television, addiction to video games, addiction to Facebook, and of course, addiction to the Internet at large. Some people might want to shrug Internet addiction off as a “fake” problem, not a “real” addiction, but a new study has found that certain brain structure correlates with what is observed as Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD), brain structure that is present in other varieties of addicts.
The study involved quizzing 35 people between the ages of 14 and 25 about their Internet use and how they thought it affected their lives. Researchers asked them questions like whether or not they felt the need to hide their Internet use, or whether or not they consider themselves problem Interneters. Subjects that answered yes to 5 or more questions were considered to have IAD after symptoms were confirmed with friends and family.
Subsequent brain scans showed that IAD suffers had shrunken brain mass in areas thought to be associated with emotional expression, cognitive control, and focus. These characteristics are similar to the characteristics displayed by your more traditional addicts, addicts with heroin and alcohol problems, for example. This seems to suggest that Internet addiction may be a thing that really exists on a neurological level, not just a psychological one.
Of course, this doesn’t prove that too much Internet hurts your brain or makes you more prone to addiction. As with all correlation studies, this doesn’t neccessarily suggest that IAD causes these brain structures or that these brain structures cause IAD. It just means that the two tend to go hand-in-hand for some reason. Figuring out what that reason is will be the next step and like trying to determine any casual relationship, it won’t be easy. It will be important, however, considering that — so long as SOPA and PIPA don’t pass — the Internet isn’t going anywhere. I guess the upside is that there will be plenty of subjects to study.
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