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Browsing the net an excessive amount of? Study links problematic web use to heightened ADHD symptoms

In a recent study published within the Journal of Psychiatric Research, researchers describe the connection between problematic web use (PIU) and the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).



Study: The connection between problematic web use and a spotlight deficit, hyperactivity and impulsivity: A meta-analysis. Image Credit: Alexxndr / Shutterstock.com 

Background

Excessive use of the web has develop into a possible public health concern worldwide. In reality, in keeping with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-5), web gaming disorder, gaming, and gambling disorder are considered specific mental health problems related to excessive web use.

So far, PIU has not been defined by either DSM-5 or the International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision (ICD-11). Nevertheless, PIU might be characterised by impaired control over web use, negligence in day by day life activities resulting from the increased priority of web use, and addiction-like symptoms, similar to the continuation or escalation of web use despite negative consequences.

Emerging evidence indicates that PIU can negatively affect mental health and increase the danger of depression, anxiety, emotional distress, social withdrawal, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and ADHD. Importantly, the clinical symptoms related to PIU are multifaceted, as a person’s personality and social cognition can contribute to the quantity of gratification they experience while using the web.

PIU may also intensify existing psychological disorders like ADHD. For instance, addiction-like social media use has been shown to exacerbate ADHD symptoms like impulsivity, hyperactivity, and a spotlight deficit.

Study design

The present study adopted a meta-analytical approach to elucidate the connection between PIU and ADHD symptoms. To this end, the researchers searched different scientific databases to discover relevant studies published between 1996 and 2023. Specifically, peer-reviewed, cross-sectional studies that measured PIU by way of general web addiction and investigated its association with ADHD symptoms were included within the meta-analysis.

The ultimate screening led to the identification of 24 studies, which comprised a complete sample size of 18,859 participants with a median age of 18.4 years, published between 2004 and 2023. On average, the chosen studies had a low risk of bias.

Essential observations

A complete of 19 studies with 21 effect sizes were analyzed to research the association between PIU and ADHD symptoms. The evaluation revealed a major positive association between web addiction and a spotlight deficit.

Similarly, regarding hyperactivity, the meta-analysis, including six studies with seven effect sizes, revealed a major positive association with web addiction. The meta-analysis of eight studies with nine effect sizes also showed a major positive association between web addiction and impulsivity.

The findings of the sub-group evaluation identified the age of participants as a major moderating variable for attention deficit, during which larger effect sizes were observed in adults in comparison with children or adolescents. Nonetheless, these subgroup differences between children or adolescents and adults weren’t observed for impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Considering participants’ clinical types, significant differences were only observed for ADHD. Specifically, non-clinical participants were related to higher effect sizes than clinical participants. Thus, study participants who aren’t clinically diagnosed with ADHD is likely to be more affected by web addiction.

Further statistical evaluation revealed significant gender differences for attention deficit and hyperactivity. In each outcomes, significantly higher effect sizes were observed in male participants in comparison with females.

Study significance

PIU is significantly related to ADHD-related symptoms, with clinically undiagnosed adult males considered to be a possible risk group within the association between web addiction and a spotlight deficit. Males also seem like more at risk of the connection between web addiction and hyperactivity as in comparison with females.

Several mechanisms have been proposed to be answerable for the association between PIU and ADHD symptoms. For instance, web use often involves quite a few attentional shifts through multi-tasking, which can negatively impact cognitive functioning. Web use for prolonged periods of time might also reduce resting time for the brain, which is especially vital within the brains of people with attention-related disorders.

One limitation of this meta-analysis is its cross-sectional approach, which is unsuitable for explaining cause-and-effect relationships. Nevertheless, the impact of web use on ADHD symptoms necessitates the necessity for added studies, particularly those investigating the efficacy of possible interventions to scale back web use or manage ADHD symptoms. Further studies are also needed to raised understand how web use at specific ages, including children and teenagers, may increase the danger of ADHD-related symptoms.

Journal reference:

  • Augner, C., Vlasak, T., & Barth, A. (2023). The connection between problematic web use and a spotlight deficit, hyperactivity and impulsivity: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychiatric Research. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2023.10.032.
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