Internet addiction

It is quite common to hear people being described as “addicted to the internet” or that we are a culture of “internet addicts”. Unfortunately, this impossible. This classification is a category error. ‘The Internet’ is a medium for information. You cannot be addicted to a form of transferring information. You can no more be addicted to the internet that you can be addicted to radio waves. This paper explains it in detail. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot be addicted to specific activities e.g. online gambling etc. But it’s the thing that you are doing that you can be addicted to, not the medium through which it is presented. Another important distinction that has to be made is explained nicely by Vaughan Bell (of Mindhacks):

 
“It’s also important to make the distinction between something being compulsive, something that you want to do again (commonly, but confusingly, called ‘addictive’ in everyday language), and a fully-fledged behavioural addiction – a mental disorder where you keep doing the activity even when it has serious damaging effects.
 
The cinema, reading books, going for walks, chatting to friends and any other enjoyable activity can be compulsive, but it doesn’t make it an addiction, even if it’s a daily time consuming activity and you get pissed off if you can’t do it”.

References:

Bell, V. (2007). Online information, extreme communities and internet therapy: Is the internet good for our mental health? Journal of Mental Health, 16 (4), 445-457.
Bell, V. (2007). Why there’s no such thing as internet addiction. Retrieved from URL: http://mindhacks.com/2007/08/20/why-there-is-no-such-thing-as-internet-addiction/

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Good news everyone: Playing video games can result in a boost in brain volume

A recent study (Kuhn & Gallinat, in press) found that participants who played Super Mario 64 (an amazing game by the way) for 30 minutes a day for 2 months experienced a significant increase in gray matter volume in brain areas that control spatial awareness, memory, and strategic thinking. The specific areas that saw an increase were the right hippocampus, the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and on both sides of the cerebellum. This was compared to the control group that did not play video games during the study. MRI scans were taken at the beginning and end of the study to establish changes in brain structure. 

As someone who loves playing video games this is pretty good news, especially since the media often chooses to vilify video games as a scourge of the people. Obviously though this doesn’t mean that you should go and play video games non-stop (more research needs to be done to establish the ideal amount of time spent playing video games) and it will also be dependent on what type of video game you play (again, more research will be needed to work out specific facts). But all in all it’s still good news. 


The full Nature article