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Social Anxiety Can Fuel Compulsive Internet Use

Social Anxiety Cab Fuel Compulsive Internet UseA new study differentiates excessive Internet use (EIU) from compulsive Internet use (CIU) — but shows that both may not be good for you.

Much research of late has explored whether Internet use leads to undesirable psychosocial outcomes such as depression and loneliness. Experts say that certain motivations to communicate online can have negative consequences, as the Internet itself can, for some, serve as an object of compulsive use.

CIU refers to the inability to control, reduce, or stop their online behavior, while EIU is the degree to which an individual feels that he or she spends an excessive amount of time online or even loses track of time when using the Internet.

The inability to self-control online use may lead some to develop depression, loneliness, and avoid face-to-face contacts.

In the new study, Joseph Mazer, Ph.D., of Clemson University and Andrew M. Ledbetter, Ph.D., of Texas Christian University explored how specific online communication attitudes—such as individuals’ tendency for online self-disclosure, online social connection, and online anxiety—predicted their compulsive and excessive Internet use and, in turn, poor well-being.

The study may be found in the Southern Communication Journal.

Mazer and Ledbetter found that an individual’s tendency for online self-disclosure and online social connection led them to use the Internet in more compulsive ways. Moreover, if a person has poor face-to-face communication skills that individual will likely be more attracted to the social features of online communication, which can foster CIU.

Research suggests that socially anxious individuals turn to online communication as they perceive the environment as less threatening.

However, the findings from Mazer and Ledbetter’s study are not entirely consistent with this claim as they discovered compulsive users also experience anxiety when communicating online.

The finding conflicts with traditional theory that frames online communication as a safe activity for the socially anxious to escape their communication anxiety.

Nevertheless, to the extent that socially anxious individuals are drawn to the Internet, suggest anxiety seems to stimulate compulsive, but not necessarily excessive, use.

On the other hand, excessive users seem to have a more realistic perception of online communication as convenient but sometimes limited in communicative effectiveness by a lack of social cues often available in face-to-face interactions.

Researchers summarize the findings by stating that anxiety motivates compulsive use of the Internet, while efficiency drives excessive use of the Internet.

Mazer and Ledbetter found that CIU, not EIU, led individuals’ to experience poor well-being outcomes.

Researchers do not know if the use of social networking sites to maintain social connections will influence online communication frequency, or how excessive participation in these sites might foster compulsive and excessive Internet use.

Source: Clemson University

Upset woman using the computer photo by shutterstock.

Social Anxiety Can Fuel Compulsive Internet Use

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Social Anxiety Can Fuel Compulsive Internet Use. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 10 Oct 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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