Internet Addiction and Delay Discounting in College Students

Article excerpt

To examine the relation between Internet addiction and delay discounting, we gave 276 college students a survey designed to measure Internet addiction and a paper-based delay-discounting task. In our larger sample, we identified 14 students who met the criteria for Internet addiction; we also identified 14 matched controls who were similar to the Internet-addicted students in terms of gender, age, and grade point average. We then compared the extent to which these groups discounted delayed rewards. We found that Internet addicts discounted delayed rewards faster than non-Internet addicts. These results suggest that Internet addicts may be more impulsive than non-Internet addicts and that Internet addiction may share behavioral characteristics with other types of addiction.

Key words: Internet, addiction, delay discounting, college students


In recent years, the use of the Internet has skyrocketed. For example, whereas less than one half of Americans used the Internet in 2002, a recent Pew Internet and American Life Project study (Fellows, 2008) found that an estimated two thirds of Americans now consistently use the Internet to engage in various online activities such as checking e-mail, sending instant messages, blogging, playing online games, purchasing goods, storing data, and participating in online gambling. In addition, access to the Internet has become easier than ever. Fifty-five percent of Americans, for instance, have high-speed Internet access in their homes, and the percentage of college students who have access to high-speed Internet connections is presumably even higher (e.g., Davis, Smith, Rodrigue, & Pulvers, 1999). With such easy access to the Internet and its many reinforcing activities, some researchers have expressed concern over the possibility of the Internet acquiring the same addictive properties as alcohol, drugs, and gambling (e.g., Block, 2008; Young, 2004).

Although researchers have discussed computer and technology addictions for nearly two decades (Shotton, 1989, 1991), the study of Internet addiction is relatively new. As a result, there is still much debate regarding the potential addictive properties of the Internet and whether excessive Internet use constitutes an addiction at all (e.g., Fitzpatrick, 2008; Young, 2004). Some researchers have suggested that the term "addiction" should be saved only for disorders that involve the ingestion of a drug (e.g., Rachlin, 1990). Others, though, have argued that activities such as gambling, sexual activity, overeating, watching television, and using the Internet can severely interfere with daily activities and thus be just as addictive as excessive drug use (e.g., Griffiths, 1990; Keepers, 1990; Lesieur & Blume, 1993). In fact, Young (2004) suggested that Internet addiction is largely similar to pathological gambling in that both seem to be addictive in nature but do not entail the ingestion of a drug. To this end, Young (2004) developed the Internet Addiction Test (IAT; see Table 1), an eight-item survey designed to identify Internet addicts. Young modeled the IAT after the DSM-IV criteria for pathological gambling and suggested that people are addicted to the Internet if they respond affirmatively to five or more test items. Because Internet addiction is similar in many respects to pathological gambling, there is debate regarding whether the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) should contain a diagnosis for Internet addiction (e.g., Block, 2008). Even in the face of such debate, though, there is growing agreement that excessive Internet use shares some key features with other behavior patterns that are regarded as addictive (Goldsmith & Shapira, 2006; Treuer, Fabian, & Furedi, 2001; Yellowlees & Marks, 2007).

Table 1

Questions on the Internet Addiction Test (IAT)

1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (i. …