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Psychological Reports, 1997,80,879-882.

O Psycholog~calReports 1997

PSYCHOLOGY OF COMPUTER USE: XLW.


PARAMETERS OF INTERNET USE, ABUSE AND ADDICTION:
THE FIRST 90 DAYS O F THE INTERNET USAGE SURVEY'
VIKTOR BRENNER
Marquette University
Summay.-While the addictive potential of Internet usage is a topic that has attracted a great deal of attention, as yet little research has addressed this topic.
Preliminary data from the Internet Usage Survey shows that most of the 563 users reported instances of Internet use interfering with other aspects of their lives, most commonly problems with managing time. A subgroup of users endorsed multiple usage-related problems, including several similar to those found in addictions. Younger users
tended to have experienced more problems.

The potential for Internet use to be addictive has attracted a great deal
of attention, particularly by the popular press (e.g., Henderson, 1996). While
individual cases of problems from excessive computer usage are common
(e.g., On Line, 1996; Parks, Thatcher, & Locke, 19961, it is premature to
utilize the term addiction, defined as "a repetitive habit pattern that increases the risk of disease and/or associated personal and social problems"
(Marlatt, Baer, Donovan, & Kivlahan, 1988, p. 224) in this context. If Internet addiction is to become a viable entity, evidence for withdrawal, tolerance, and craving by users will be required (Peele, 1985).
The Internet Usage Survey was developed to address issues of Internet
use, abuse, and its potential for a "behavioral addction" (Griffiths, 1995).
An on-line survey assessed the extent to which users experience usage-related consequences ranging from losing track of time to being unable to cut
down the number of hours connected, providing a picture of normal usage
patterns to help in defining excessive use and abuse. The prevalence of consequences analogous to adlctive symptoms is also addressed.

Scale
The Internet Usage Survey exists as a World-Wide Web (WWW) page
located at http://www.mu.edu/dept/ccenter/intro-srv.htm1. The key portion
of the survey is a 32-item true-false questionnaire (working title: Internet-Related Addctive Behavior Lnventor~)assessing experiences similar to those associated with Substance Abuse in the DSM-IV, ranging from falling to limit
'Address en uiries to Vlktor Brenner, Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology,
School of ~ j u c a t i o n ,Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201-1881 or e-mail (brennerv@vms.csd.mu.edu).

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V. BRENNER

time spent online to computer-related social isolation. Representative items


can be found in Table 1 below. Four low baserate infrequency items are also
included, e.g., I cannot recall the last time that I have met someone who
wears glasses, to screen out careless or faulty responses.

Participants and Procedure


L ~ k eall World-Wide Web pages, the survey is accessed through hypertext h k s to other pages, especially through user-guided use of public search
engines. Ln its first 90 days, 1885 persons from more than 25 countries accessed the survey. 654 (35%) took the survey; 62 were unusable given rnissing data and 29 were blank due to browsers' incompatibdity. Surveys were
invabdated if they scored more than 2 on the f o u r infrequency items; no
surveys met this criterion, yieldrng 563 valid, usable surveys (30%). The majority (73%) of completed surveys were from males; the average respondent
was 34 years old, used the Internet 19 hours per week, had 15 years of education, and had used the Internet for about 2 years.
RESULTS
Table 1 shows the response rates to key questions from the Internet Related Addctive Behavior Inventory. Psychometric analysis shows that the survey has good internal consistency (a=3 7 ) and all 32 items correlate moderTABLE 1
SELECTED
RESPONSES
FROMTHE INTERNET
USAGESURVEY
Question (Keyed Answer)

I have spent at least 3 hours on the net at least twice (true)


More than once, I have gotten less than four hours of sleep in a night because
I was using the net (not due to studying, deadlines, erc.) (true)
I have never made arrangements to rendezvous with someone I knew only from
the net (false)
I have voluntarily gone more than 3 days without connecting in the past 3
months (false)
I have been told that I spend too much time on the net (true)
I have used net resources intended for tldults only (true)
If it has been a while since I lasc logged o n , I find it hard to stop thinking
about what w d be waiting for mc \\hen I d o (true)
I have attempted to spend less tune connected but have been unable to (true)
I have otten into hot water with my employer/school for net-related activities
(true7
I routinely cut short on sleep to spend more h e online (true)
If it weren't for my computer, I wouldn't have any fun at all (true)
My work and/or performance has not deteriorated since I started using the
net (false)
Given the choice between l i ~ i n gxhere I d o now but having computer access
and moving somewhere strange ~ n far
d away but having my modem, I would
choose to move (true)
Most of mv friends I know krom the net (true)

Response
Rate. %

INTERNET USE, ABUSE, ADDICTION

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ately with total score (ranging from .22 to .55 with an average correlation of
.44), suggesting that all items measure some unique variance.
The average respondent endorsed 11 out of a total possible 32 items in
the keyed direction (SD=5.89), with scores ranging from 0 (three cases) to
31 (one case). There is a significant trend for older users to experience fewer
problems (F,,,, = 29.566, p < .OOOl) while spending the same amount of time
o n h e (F,,,, = 0.76, p > .78). Men and women do not dlffer in either time online or number of problems experienced. The over-all dstribution of scores
has a significant positive skew (skewness= ,678, Z=6.58, p < ,001) with the
tail of the skew beginning at about a score of 18, suggesting that a subgroup
of users experience significantly more interference in role-performance due
to their Internet usage.
Drscusslo~
The average respondent used the Internet 19 hours per week and reported experiencing at least 10 signs of interference in role functioning from
their use (mostly failures to manage time, cutting short on sleep, missing
meals, etc.). Eighty percent of users endorsed at least five such signs, suggesting that usage patterns that some observers might think excessive are in fact
the norm. Some users admitted experiencing more serious consequences
from their Lnternet use, such as getting into trouble with an employer or being socially isolated except for Internet friends; people reporting several of
these experiences might be considered Internet abusers. The fact that younger users are more hkely to report problems deserves more attention but
may simply reflect a less-developed abdity to manage multiple roles and demands on one's time. Regarding the viabdity of an Internet addiction, the
skewed distribution and base rate of endorsement of more severe interference is consistent with the existence of a deviant subgroup who experience
more severe problems due to Internet use. This is also preluninary evidence
of phenomenon that can be interpreted as tolerance (55% have been told
they spend too much time on the net), withdrawal (28% find it hard to stop
thinlung about the net if they haven't logged on in a while), and craving
(22% have attempted to spend less time connected but have been unable).
These results must be interpreted cautiously because the survey is elective. Nonetheless, it is important because it directly reaches its target population within the context of interest. Lnternet users are st~Ua relatively small
proportion of the general population and thus difficult to survey in large
numbers using other methods. Within the population of Internet users, this
survey may be skewed towards World-Wide Web users. However, the Internet-based survey method allows a broad sarnphg of age ranges, nationalities, and cultural and educational backgrounds.
The viabhty of the concept of Internet addiction warrants further re-

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V. BRENNER

search. The current study found that some users experience multiple usagerelated problems and gave preliminary support for the existence of tolerance, craving, and withdrawal. The finding that younger users are at increased risk for usage-related problems is interesting if replicated. The method of Internet-based research also warrants further study, as it could prove
to be a cost-effective method for conducting research.
REFERENCES
(1994) Diagnostic and stotisticaf manual of mental disorAMERICAN
PSYCHIATRIC
ASSOCIATION.
ders. (4th ed.) Washington, DC: Author.
GRIFFITHS,
M. D. (1995) Technological addictions. Clinical Psychology Forum, 76, 14-19.
HENDERSON,
D. (March 1, 1996) I'm Kris; I'm a Webaholic: use of online computer services
can be addictive. Seatfle Times, pp. Al, A9.
MARLATT,G. k , BAER,J. S., DONOVAN.
D. M., &KIVUHAN,D. R. (1988) Addictive behaviors:
etiology and treatment. Annual Review ofPsychology, 39,223-252.
O N LINE.(April 26, 1996) Chronicle of Higher Education, 42(33),A21.
PARKS,D., THATCHER,
B., &LOCKE,D. (April 17, 1996) Pewaukee couple to cool off in jail: Internet chat becomes spat. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, p. 1.
PEELE,S. (1985) The meaning of addiction: compulsive experience and its interpretation. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Accepted April 3, 1997.