Differential physiological changes following internet exposure in higher and lower problematic internet users

PLoS One. 2017 May 25;12(5):e0178480. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0178480. eCollection 2017.


Problematic internet use (PIU) has been suggested as in need of further research with a view to being included as a disorder in future Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association, but lack of knowledge about the impact of internet cessation on physiological function remains a major gap in knowledge and a barrier to PIU classification. One hundred and forty-four participants were assessed for physiological (blood pressure and heart rate) and psychological (mood and state anxiety) function before and after an internet session. Individuals also completed a psychometric examination relating to their usage of the internet, as well as their levels of depression and trait anxiety. Individuals who identified themselves as having PIU displayed increases in heart rate and systolic blood pressure, as well as reduced mood and increased state of anxiety, following cessation of internet session. There were no such changes in individuals with no self-reported PIU. These changes were independent of levels of depression and trait anxiety. These changes after cessation of internet use are similar to those seen in individuals who have ceased using sedative or opiate drugs, and suggest PIU deserves further investigation and serious consideration as a disorder.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Psychometrics / methods
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

We received no external funding for this manuscript, but may be able to access open access publishing funds from the University of Milan. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.