Seeking safety on the internet: relationship between social anxiety and problematic internet use

J Anxiety Disord. 2012 Jan;26(1):197-205. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2011.11.001. Epub 2011 Nov 11.


As internet use becomes increasingly integral to modern life, the hazards of excessive use are also becoming apparent. Prior research suggests that socially anxious individuals are particularly susceptible to problematic internet use. This vulnerability may relate to the perception of online communication as a safer means of interacting, due to greater control over self-presentation, decreased risk of negative evaluation, and improved relationship quality. To investigate these hypotheses, a general sample of 338 completed an online survey. Social anxiety was confirmed as a significant predictor of problematic internet use when controlling for depression and general anxiety. Social anxiety was associated with perceptions of greater control and decreased risk of negative evaluation when communicating online, however perceived relationship quality did not differ. Negative expectations during face-to-face interactions partially accounted for the relationship between social anxiety and problematic internet use. There was also preliminary evidence that preference for online communication exacerbates face-to-face avoidance.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology*
  • Communication*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales