European researchers set out priorities for dealing with problem internet use

October 8, 2018, European College of Neuropsychopharmacology

European Union funded researchers have launched the first international network to identify and understand problems associated with Internet use, such as gambling, pornography, bullying, excessive social media use. The Manifesto for a European Research Network into Problematic Usage of the Internet is published today in the peer-reviewed journal, European Neuropsychopharmacology.

The European Problematic Use of the Internet (EU-PUI) Research Network, which has to date been awarded €520,000 funding from the EU's COST programme (European Cooperation in Science and Technology), has agreed priorities for the study of problems associated with Internet use, what causes these problems, and how society can best deal with them. Identification of these priorities allows robust evidence-based proposals to be developed to feed into the next major round of EU funding, the €100bn Horizon Europe project.

Most Internet use is harmless, but recently significant concerns have grown over how Internet use might affect , especially , and wellbeing4. The World Health Organisation has recognised Problematic Use of the Internet (PUI) since 2014, and it is about to include the new diagnosis of Gaming Disorder in the forthcoming revised International Classification of Mental Disorders (ICD-11), to be released shortly. Nevertheless, research on PUI has been fragmented and mainly at a national level, meaning that it is difficult to understand the international picture, or to work with a big enough group of patients to develop meaningful comparisons. To address this, the COST programme has funded an expanding EU-PUI network, currently including 123 researchers from 38 countries. Plans for the network originated in the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology's Obsessive- Compulsive and Related Disorders Network, and the International College of Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Disorders, and extends to include non-EU experts from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines.

The Network's Chair, Consultant Psychiatrist, Professor Naomi Fineberg (University of Hertfordshire), said: "This network includes the best researchers in the field, and the network will drive the PUI research agenda for the foreseeable future. Problematic Use of the Internet is a serious issue. Just about everyone uses the Internet, but much information on problem use is still lacking. Research has often been confined to individual countries, or problematic behaviours such as Internet gaming. So we don't know the real scale of the problem, what causes problematic use, or whether different cultures are more prone to problematic use than others.

These proposals are aimed at allowing researchers' to identify what we know and what we don't know. For example, it may be that cultural or family factors affect the extent to which people develop problems, but that needs research to determine.

Understanding the biological, psychological and social processes underlying problematic usage of the Internet stands to improve prevention and treatment strategies. Ultimately, we hope to be able to identify those most at risk from the Internet before the problem takes hold, and to develop effective interventions that reduce its harms both at an individual and public health level.

These are questions which need to be answered internationally. The internet is international, and many of the problems associated with it are international, meaning that any solutions need to be viewed in a global perspective. We need standard methods so we can make meaningful comparisons.

There's no doubt that some of the we are looking at appear rather like addiction, such as on-line gambling or gaming. Some tend towards the OCD end of the spectrum, like compulsive social-media checking. But we will need more than just psychiatrists and psychologists to help solve these problems, so we need to bring together a range of experts, such as neuroscientists, geneticists, child and adult psychiatrists, those with the lived experience of these problems and policy—makers, in the decisions we make about the Internet.

We need to remember that the Internet is not a passive medium; we know that many programmes or platforms earn their money by keeping people involved and by encouraging continued participation; and they may need to be regulated—not just from a commercial viewpoint, but also from a public health perspective5".

The team has identified 9 main areas of research, including such things as what PUI really is, how we measure it, how it affects health, are there genetic or social factors, and others.

1. What is problematic use of the internet?

2. How do we measure problem use, especially in different cultures and age groups?

3. How does problem use affect health and quality of life?

4. What long-terms studies do we need to show if the problems change over time?

5. How can we make it easier to recognise problem use?

6. What does genetics and personality tell us?

7. Do different cultures, family influences or design features of websites and applications impact on problem use?

8. How can we develop and test preventative interventions and treatments?

9. Can we develop biomarkers?

Naomi Fineberg continued, "We now need to begin to discuss the priorities set out in this paper, both with scientists and the public. We begin with a meeting in Barcelona on 10th October, which is also World Mental Health Day, just after the ECNP Congress, where we will begin to take evidence from the public".

Commenting Professor David Nutt (Imperial College, London) said: "As the takes up larger and larger parts of our life it is important to prepare for possible negative consequences. This manifesto is a significant step in this direction as it sets out a research programme run by top experts from many European and other countries that will monitor and provide potential solutions to such emergent adverse effects". Professor Nutt is not involved in this work.

Explore further: Social media, social problems

More information: "Manifesto for a European Research Network into Problematic Usage of the Internet ", Neuropsychopharmacology (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2018.08.004

Related Stories

Social media, social problems

September 6, 2018
Scott Caplan is a big fan of face time.

Study shows internet addiction may indicate other mental health problems problem in college-aged students

September 19, 2016
A new survey of internet users suggests that people who use the internet excessively may have more mental health problems. Using two scales to evaluate internet use, researchers have found high rates of problematic internet ...

High Internet, video game use linked to mental health issues

June 27, 2016
Teenagers who use the Internet, social media or electronic games excessively are more likely to experience mental health issues and engage in risk-taking behaviour, research suggests.

Expert claims internet addiction should be recognized as a disorder requiring treatment

September 18, 2017
Pathological internet addiction that triggers deviant behaviour on social networking sites (SNS) should be recognised as a disorder needing treatment, a Flinders University expert says.

Recommended for you

Suicide risk in abused teen girls linked to mother-daughter conflict

October 18, 2018
Teenage girls who were maltreated as children are more likely to entertain suicidal thoughts if the relationship with their mother is poor and the degree of conflict between the two of them high.

Study shows how bias can influence people estimating the ages of other people

October 17, 2018
A trio of researchers from the University of New South Wales and Western Sydney University has discovered some of the factors involved when people make errors in estimating the ages of other people. In their paper published ...

Infants are more likely to learn when with a peer

October 16, 2018
Infants are more likely to learn from on-screen instruction when paired with another infant as opposed to viewing the lesson alone, according to a new study.

Researchers use brain cells in a dish to study genetic origins of schizophrenia

October 16, 2018
A study in Biological Psychiatry has established a new analytical method for investigating the complex genetic origins of mental illnesses using brain cells that are grown in a dish from human embryonic stem cells. Researchers ...

Income and wealth affect the mental health of Australians, study shows

October 16, 2018
Australians who have higher incomes and greater wealth are more likely to experience better mental health throughout their lives, new research led by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found.

Study suggests biological basis for depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances in older adults

October 15, 2018
UC San Francisco researchers, in collaboration with the unique Brazilian Biobank for Aging Studies (BBAS) at the University of São Paulo, have shown that the earliest stages of the brain degeneration associated with Alzheimer's ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.