Search of the poisoned mind? A brief look at ‘internet search dependence’

Despite being a controversial topic, research into a wide variety of online addictions has grown substantially over the last decade. My own research into online addictions has been wide ranging and has included online social networking, online sex addiction, online gaming addiction, online shopping addiction, and online gambling addiction. As early as the late 1990s/early 2000s, I constantly argued that when it came to online addictions, most of those displaying problematic behaviour had addictions on the internet rather than addictions to the internet (i.e., they were not addicted to the medium of the internet but addicted to applications and activities that could be engaged in via the internet).

A recent 2016 paper by Dr. Yifan Wang and colleagues in the journal Frontiers in Public Health described the development of the Questionnaire of Internet Search Dependence (QISD), a tool developed to assess individuals who may be displaying a dependence on using online search engines (such as Google and Baidu). The notion of individuals being addicted to using search engines is not new and was one of five types of internet addiction outlined in a 1999 typology in a paper in the Student British Medical Journal by Dr. Kimberley Young (and what she termed ‘information overload’ and referred to compulsive database searching). Although I criticized the typology on the grounds that most of the types of online addict were not actually internet addicts but were individuals using the medium of the internet to fuel other addictive behaviours (e.g., gambling, gaming, day trading, etc.), I did implicitly acknowledge that activities such as internet database searching could theoretically exist, even if I did not think it was a type of internet addiction.

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As far as I am aware, the new scale developed by Wang et al. (2016) is the first to create and psychometrically evaluate an instrument to assess ‘internet search dependence’. As noted by the authors:

Subsequently, we compiled 16 items to represent psychological characteristics associated with Internet search dependence, based on the literature review and a follow-up interview with 50 randomly selected university students…We adopted the six criteria for behavioral addiction formulated by Griffiths (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse) [Griffiths, 1999b]”.

Given the authors claimed they used an early version of my addiction components model (i.e., one from 1999 rather than my most recent 2005 formulation) to help inform item construction, I was obviously interested to see the scale’s formulated items. I have to admit that I had a lot of misgivings about the paper so I wrote a commentary on it that has just been published in the same journal (Frontiers in Public Health). More specifically, I noted in my paper that if an individual was genuinely addicted to searching online databases I would have expected to see all of my six criteria applied as follows:

  • Salience – This occurs when searching internet databases becomes the single most important activity in the person’s life and dominates their thinking (preoccupations and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behaviour (deterioration of socialized behaviour). For instance, even if the person is not actually searching the internet they will be constantly thinking about the next time that they will be (i.e., a total preoccupation with internet database searching).
  • Mood modification – This refers to the subjective experiences that people report as a consequence of internet database searching and can be seen as a coping strategy (i.e., they experience an arousing ‘buzz’ or a ‘high’ or paradoxically a tranquilizing feel of ‘escape’ or ‘numbing’ when searching internet databases).
  • Tolerance – This is the process whereby increasing amounts of time searching internet databases are required to achieve the former mood modifying effects. This basically means that for someone engaged in internet database searching, they gradually build up the amount of the time they spend searching internet databases every day.
  • Withdrawal symptoms – These are the unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects (e.g., the shakes, moodiness, irritability, etc.), that occur when an individual is unable to search internet databases because they are ill, the internet is unavailable, or there is no Wi-Fi on holiday, etc.
  • Conflict – This refers to the conflicts between the person and those around them (interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (social life, hobbies and interests) or from within the individual themselves (intra-psychic conflict and/or subjective feelings of loss of control) that are concerned with spending too much time searching internet databases.
  • Relapse – This is the tendency for repeated reversions to earlier patterns of excessive internet database searching to recur and for even the most extreme patterns typical of the height of excessive internet database searching to be quickly restored after periods of control.

Of the 12 QISD items constructed in the new scale, very few appeared to have anything to do with addiction and/or dependence but this is most likely due to the fact that the authors also used data collected from 50 participants to inform their items and not just the criteria in the addiction components model. However, relying heavily on input from their participants resulted in a number of key features in addiction/dependence not even being assessed (i.e., no assessment of salience, mood modification, conflict, relapse or tolerance). A couple of items may peripherally assess withdrawal symptoms (e.g., ‘I will be upset if I cannot find an answer to a complex question through Internet search’) but not in any way that is directly associated with addiction or dependence. This may be because the authors’ conceptualization of ‘dependence’ was more akin to ‘over-reliance’ rather than traditional definitions of dependence.

While the QISD may be psychometrically robust I argued that it appears to have little face validity and does not appear to assess problematic engagement in internet database searching (irrespective of how addiction or dependence is defined). Based on the addiction components model, I concluded my paper by creating my own scale to assess internet search dependence based directly on the addiction components model and which I argued would have much greater face validity than any item currently found in the QISD:

  • Internet database searching is the most important thing in my life.
  • Conflicts have arisen between me and my family and/or my partner about the amount of time I spend searching internet databases.
  • I engage in internet database searching as a way of changing my mood.
  • Over time I have increased the amount of internet database searching I do in a day.
  • If I am unable to engage in internet database searching I feel moody and irritable.
  • If I cut down the amount of internet database searching I do, and then start again, I always end up searching internet databases as often as I did before.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D., Pallesen, S., Bilder, R.M., Torsheim, T. Aboujaoude, E.N. (2015). The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale: Reliability and validity of a brief screening test. Frontiers in Psychology, 6:1374. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01374.

Andreassen, C.S., Pallesen, S., Griffiths, M.D. (2017). The relationship between excessive online social networking, narcissism, and self-esteem: Findings from a large national survey. Addictive Behaviors, 64, 287-293.

Canale, N., Griffiths, M.D., Vieno, A., Siciliano, V. & Molinaro, S. (2016). Impact of internet gambling on problem gambling among adolescents in Italy: Findings from a large-scale nationally representative survey. Computers in Human Behavior, 57, 99-106.

Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Applications (pp. 61-75). New York: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999a). Internet addiction: Internet fuels other addictions. Student British Medical Journal, 7, 428-429.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999b). Internet addiction: Fact or fiction? The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 12, 246-250.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Internet addiction – Time to be taken seriously? Addiction Research, 8, 413-418.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Commentary: Development and validation of a self-reported Questionnaire for Measuring Internet Search Dependence. Frontiers in Public Health, in press.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J., Billieux J. & Pontes, H.M. (2016). The evolution of internet addiction: A global perspective. Addictive Behaviors, 53, 193–195.

Kuss, D. J., Griffiths, M. D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2014). Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 4026-4052.

Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Measuring DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: Development and validation of a short psychometric scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 137-143.

Wang, Y., Wu, L., Zhou, H., Xu, J. & Dong, G. (2016). Development and validation of a self-reported Questionnaire for Measuring Internet Search Dependence. Frontiers in Public Health, 4, 274. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2016.00274

Young, K. S. (1999). Internet addiction: evaluation and treatment. Student British Medical Journal, 7, 351-352.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on May 1, 2017, in Addiction, Compulsion, I.T., Internet addiction, Online addictions, Psychiatry, Psychological disorders, Psychology, Social Networking, Technological addiction, Technology, Uncategorized, Work and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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