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Internet addiction, reality substitution and longitudinal changes in psychotic-like experiences in young adults

Authors

  • Vijay A. Mittal,

    Corresponding author
    1. Center for Neuroscience, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, USA
    • Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, USA
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  • Derek J. Dean,

    1. Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, USA
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  • Andrea Pelletier

    1. Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, USA
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Corresponding author: Professor Vijay A. Mittal, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Center for Neuroscience, University of Colorado at Boulder, 345 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309, USA. Email: vijay.mittal@colorado.edu

Abstract

Aim

Internet use has grown exponentially in the past decade, but there has been little systematic research to inform our understanding of how this phenomenon may relate to mental illness. Although several characteristics of individuals experiencing psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) may render this group particularly susceptible to problematic Internet use, to date there have been no studies examining Internet use in this group. Because the experience of PLEs is considered a risk “behaviour” for formal psychosis, it is crucial to understand how patterns of Internet use may be tied to the progression of illness.

Methods

A total of 170 young adults were followed for 2 months, and grouped into those showing a steady/improved course of PLEs (PLE-Improved/Constant) and those showing an exacerbation in PLEs (PLE-Increase). Internet addiction and a factor ‘Reality Substitute’ were examined within and between the two groups.

Results

Findings indicated that although both groups reported a similar level of Internet addiction and Reality Substitute at baseline, the PLE-Improved/Constant group showed longitudinal declines in both domains of problematic Internet usage whereas the PLE-Increase group's reported level remained constant. Further, there were moderate correlations between PLEs and domains of problematic Internet use, and the magnitude of association with Reality Substitute for the PLE-Increase group grew significantly over time.

Conclusion

Taken together, results implicate a close link between continued problematic Internet use and the phenomena of PLEs.

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