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Internet Addiction In Adolescents Can Negatively Affect Brain Function: Study

internet addiction in adolescents can negatively affect brain function study
In this photo illustration, a teenager looks at the screen of a mobile phone in London on Jan. 17, 2023. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Internet addiction (IA) in adolescents can affect neural networks in the brain and lead to behavioural and developmental changes, researchers have found.

A study by University College London (UCL) examined data from 12 studies, conducted in China, Korea, and Indonesia. The papers analysed more than 200 young people, aged 10 to 19, who had been diagnosed with IA.

UCL researchers found that youngsters with IA can present behavioural changes linked to physical coordination, intellectual ability, and mental health.

The study defines IA as an inability to resist the urge to use the internet. It has a negative impact on individual’s psychological well-being, as well as their social, academic, and professional lives.

In severe circumstances, people may experience severe pain in their bodies or health issues like carpal tunnel syndrome, dry eyes, irregular eating and disrupted sleep,” the study said.

Researchers looked at IA effects on the neural networks in the brains of adolescents. Participants with IA had their functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) taken while resting and completing a task.

When they were involved in active thinking, an overall decrease in the functional connectivity in their brain was recorded. When resting, researchers saw a mixture of increased and decreased activity in parts of the youngsters’ brains.

“Given the influx of technology and media in the lives and education of children and adolescents, an increase in prevalence and focus on internet related behavioural changes is imperative towards future children/adolescent mental health,” the authors of the study wrote in the journal PLOS Mental Health.

Handling Internet Addiction

Researchers said that parents who recognise the early signs and onset of IA can better handle their children’s screen time and impulsivity. This can help minimise the risk factors surrounding the addiction.

“Adolescence is a crucial developmental stage during which people go through significant changes in their biology, cognition and personalities. As a result, the brain is particularly vulnerable to internet addiction-related urges during this time, such as compulsive internet usage, cravings towards usage of the mouse or keyboard and consuming media,” said lead author Max Chang.

Mr. Chang added that as a result, adolescents can suffer from negative behavioural and developmental changes.

“For example, they may struggle to maintain relationships and social activities, lie about online activity and experience irregular eating and disrupted sleep,” he said.

Senior author Irene Lee acknowledged the advantages of the internet, but cautioned about the possible negative effects on people’s day-to-day lives.

“We would advise that young people enforce sensible time limits for their daily internet usage and ensure that they are aware of the psychological and social implications of spending too much time online,” said Ms. Lee.

Widespread Issue

The UK Addiction Treatment Centres (UKAT) found that young people tend to be at a higher risk of falling victim to IA. Among 18–24-year-olds, 78 percent will check their phones whilst dining out, 81 percent will do so at work, and 92 percent will do so while in bed.

Compulsive internet use changes the way that the brain functions, making the user feel that getting online is far more pleasurable than any other activity. This pleasure of the internet comes as a direct result of the reward,” said UKAT.

Users get a jolt of dopamine every time they receive a message or hear the sound of a new notification. This sends the user’s pleasure centres into overdrive and is “difficult to shake,” UKAT explained.

According to communications regulator Ofcom, 93 percent of people in the UK had home internet access in 2022. The most commonly used sites by teenagers were YouTube (90 percent), Instagram (70 percent), TikTok (66 percent), and Snapchat (58 percent).

Further studies of the effects of IA on functional connectivity changes in adolescents are necessary to better understand the issue, UCL authors said. They called on future studies to test with larger sample sizes and populations outside Far East Asia.

PA Media contributed to this report.

Authored by Evgenia Filimianova via The Epoch Times June 7th 2024