Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Internet Addiction Linked To White Matter Differences In Teen Brains

Internet Addiction Linked To White Matter Differences In Teen Brains

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January 13th 2012 7:07 AM

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Main Category: Psychology / Psychiatry
Also Included In: Alcohol / Addiction / Illegal Drugs; Pediatrics / Children's Health; Neurology / Neuroscience
Article Date: 13 Jan 2012 - 4:00 PST

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Researchers in China who compared the brain scans of 18 teenagers diagnosed with Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) with those of 18 non-addicted teenagers found differences in white matter density in over 20 brain regions. A report on their findings was published online in the 11 January issue of PLoS ONE.

All the participants had a brain scan from which the researchers assessed the density and structure of the white matter. White matter contains fibers that carry the signals various parts of the brain use to communicate with each another.

The researchers, who came from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and other research centers in China, also assessed a range of behavioral features such as addiction, anxiety, emotional disorder, social relationships, family functioning and time management and compared the results from the group diagnosed with IAD with the non-IAD group.

They found the participants in the IAD group performed less well in some of the behavioral assessments, including an additional measure of addiction, a questionnaire that assesses emotional conduct and problems in relationships, and a measure that screens for anxiety-related emotional disorders.

Also, when the researchers compared brain regions they observed to be different between the groups with the results of their behavioral assessments, they found that worse (ie less "healthy") scores on two of the behavioral measures were linked to lower white matter density in two specific brain regions.

The researchers conclude that their findings show IAD is "characterised by impairment of white matter fibres connecting brain regions involved in emotional generation and processing, executive attention, decision making and cognitive control".

At this point we might mistakenly assume that because the researchers found a link between IAD and brain changes, that it was the former that led to the latter.

However, we should bear in mind that this is a a cross-sectional study: the researchers took a "snapshot" at one point in time. They did not follow the participants over a period and they did not establish what their brain structures were like before they became "addicted" to the internet. So we don't know if the brain changes were already present beforehand and so we can't rule out whether they led to or contributed to the addiction.

There are two other reasons to be cautious about interpreting these results:

Firstly, the number of participants is small, and while the results may show "statistical significance", we should probably regard them as tentative.

Secondly, internet addiction is a relatively new disorder, and while more studies are appearing using the term, it is not clearly defined and universally recognized. For instance it is not included in the current edition of the "bible" of psychological disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

However, judging from the reactions of other experts interviewed by the media this week, it appears the findings are intriguing enough to warrant further research, using larger groups, and comparing for example, participants with IAD with everyday internet users who do not have IAD.

In this study, participants were assessed as having IAD if they answered yes to the first five of the following questions and also one of the remaining three questions (there were other items in the questionnaire):

  1. Do you feel preoccupied with the internet (that is, think about previous online activity or anticipate your next online session)?
  2. Do you feel the need to use the internet for increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
  3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop internet use?
  4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop internet use?
  5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
  6. Have you jeopardised or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the internet?
  7. Have you lied to family members, a therapist or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the internet?
  8. Do you use the internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a distressed mood (for example, feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety and depression)?
Funds from the Natural Science Foundation of China and the Chinese Academy of Sciences helped pay for the study.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without permission of Medical News Today

Visit our psychology / psychiatry section for the latest news on this subject. "Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study"; Lin F , Zhou Y , Du Y , Qin L , Zhao Z , and others; PLoS ONE 7(1): e30253; published online 11 January 2012; doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030253; Link to Article.
Other sources: NHS Choices' review of the study; Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:


Catharine Paddock PhD. "Internet Addiction Linked To White Matter Differences In Teen Brains." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 13 Jan. 2012. Web.
18 Jan. 2012.
Catharine Paddock PhD. (2012, January 13). "Internet Addiction Linked To White Matter Differences In Teen Brains." Medical News Today. Retrieved from

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Visitor Opinions In Chronological Order (3)

good grief - naming new disorders all the time

posted by bodie speight

how about naming a 'disorder' for doctors and researchers who need to find and name obscure disorders. 'The justify your grant money disorder' JYGMD.

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Hmmm... what about other, more zombifying addictions?

posted by Aria on 13 Jan 2012 at 2:42 pm

This is interesting and doesn't surprise me. What does surprise me is the fact that not much is mentioned about television addiction. People watch way too much TV and it does cut into productivity, time for hobbies, socializing, and family time. But this is considered normal. It's great to talk about internet addiction... but TV addiction seems more detrimental. At least with the internet, there is some form of interaction or influencing of outcome of the content being viewed. Such as this comment, for example.

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attitude chanche about internet

posted by rozy ibnu zarqawi on 15 Jan 2012 at 8:48 am

if u have a wife play with her and make her more conversation, instead of u giving more of ur times and more of ur cost with aimless thing like internet, ok make a plan 4 ur children if u have them, while u are single do more reading, and more writing,

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1 comment:

  1. We should all be aware of this new type of addiction. almost all Australian households has a contract with an Australian internet service provider so parents should be prepared for internet addiction especially among teens.