Academic journal article The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences

"Internet Delusions": The Impact of Technological Developments on the Content of Psychiatric Symptoms

Academic journal article The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences

"Internet Delusions": The Impact of Technological Developments on the Content of Psychiatric Symptoms

Article excerpt

Abstract: The inclusion of computers and the Internet in our daily lives has become an increasingly pervasive phenomenon. Naturally, this phenomenon found its reflection in the quick inclusion of these technologies in the content of delusions. There have already been a few reports describing patients with Internet delusions. In this report, we describe two patients and their social background who were without previous psychiatric history and whose first psychosis involved delusions surrounding the Internet. Our opinion is that Internet delusions do not represent a new diagnostic entity, but rather modified delusions of persecution, broadcasting and control.

In the course of history, major scientific technical progress has had a significant influence on everyday life. Technological know-how becomes an essential part of our objective reality and is used to meet daily needs. At the same time mental patients not only use the same innovations but also may include them in the morbid content of their delusions.

Delusions are, of course, infinitely variable in their content but certain general characteristics commonly occur. There are a few main themes of delusional content such as delusion of persecution, delusion of grandiosity, delusion of guilt, hypochondriac delusions, religious delusion, delusions of jealousy, and delusions of love which can be found in every epoch and across different cultures (1). Unlike the form that is dictated by the type of illness, the content is determined by the emotional, social and cultural background of the patient. The influence of culture and historical factors on patients with psychiatric disorders has been well documented in the psychiatric literature (2). The definition of delusions according to the DSM classification system includes "culture" as a necessary criterion: "delusion - a false belief ... is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the persons culture or subculture (e.g., it is not an article of religious faith)" (3).

Likewise current social, political and technical progress can affect delusional beliefs in psychiatric patients. For example, a few hundred years ago the main content of control delusions, delusions of persecution and reference, involved supernatural entities and witchcraft, while after the invention of modern technologies, electricity, X-rays, laser and modern communication like telegraph, telephone, radio and television, the content of delusions was substantially influenced by these innovations (4).

Delusions are cardinal symptoms of serious psychopathology (5), but are best known as the cornerstone of psychotic illness.

A number of recent case reports published during the last 20 years described a quick inclusion of new technologies and cultural phenomena into schizophrenic delusions which led many of the authors to the conclusion that the "Zeitgeist" - the spirit of the age - is creating new delusional contents (1, 6-8).

The genesis of delusional ideation remains a mystery. Researchers have noted that an individual's delusional content can be shaped by many different forces, including sociocultural and political experiences. There are many examples of patients' delusions being shaped by topics covered in the media or by recent emotionally charged events. There have also been reports of patients whose delusions were based on their concern about being influenced by products of modern science. These patients were so focused on the possible effects of recent cultural and/or technical innovations (either real or imagined) that they incorporated these fears into their delusional system (9, 10).

Several reports of "rock and roll" delusions have been reported, where patients have believed themselves to be owed money by, persecuted by, or in a romantic relationship with specific and recent popular musicians or singers (resembling a variant of Clerambault syndrome) (11-13). Utilities such as computer games have constructed and shaped the content of delusions, and there is a report of a patient with the delusional belief that he was a character in a particular computer game (14). …

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