Electrophysiological correlates of problematic Internet use: Critical review and perspectives for future research

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2015 Dec:59:64-82. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.10.005. Epub 2015 Oct 22.


Problematic behaviors have emerged with the exponential development of the Internet access, with some individuals failing to constrain their Internet use despite its negative impact on their daily lives. Recent neuropsychological and neuroscience studies have suggested that problematic Internet use is notably associated with increased cue-reactivity and reduced inhibitory control. This review of the electroencephalography (EEG) literature shows that most studies have found that impaired self-control abilities (i.e., inhibition and error monitoring) are associated with underactivated frontal regions in problematic Internet users (PIUs). However, some EEG studies in the domain have also demonstrated alterations in the processing of Internet-related cues and emotional stimuli. As a whole, these data therefore suggest that both reflective (top-down) and automatic/affective (bottom-up) systems, postulated by dual-process models as being determinants in decision making, are impaired among PIUs. On this basis, new research avenues are proposed to better understand the development and maintenance of problematic Internet use, according to six main directions respectively related to (1) the identification of vulnerability biomarkers, (2) the investigation of possible lower level cognitive impairments, (3) the exploration of core reflective and automatic/affective symptoms, (4) the evaluation of Internet use heterogeneity and comorbidities, (5) the development of new neuroscience strategies and (6) the elaboration of behavioral and cognitive interventions.

Keywords: Dual-process models; Electroencephalography; Emotion; Error monitoring; Event-related potential; Inhibition; Problematic Internet use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography* / methods
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neuropsychological Tests*
  • Research*