Internet society, internet addiction, and pathological social withdrawal: the chicken and egg dilemma for internet addiction and hikikomori

Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2020 May;33(3):264-270. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000601.


Purpose of review: Internet society has made our daily life more convenient, while its negative consequences especially internet, smartphone, and gaming addiction are emerging. At the same time, the phenomenon of pathological social withdrawal called 'hikikomori' has been increasingly highlighted as a problematic behavior in Japan. Now hikikomori is becoming a global mental health issue. The interaction between internet society, internet addiction, and hikikomori has not been well clarified.

Recent findings: A case vignette survey among psychiatrists suggested that hikikomori cases could be comorbid with internet addiction. In reality, hikikomori cases with internet addiction have been reported internationally. A recent survey among college/university students in Japan has indicated positive interactions between internet addiction, smartphone addiction, gaming internet disorder, and hikikomori-tendencies.

Summary: The cause of hikikomori has not been well understood, and the emergence of internet may be one of the important contributing factors for the occurrence of hikikomori. Whether pathological social withdrawal creates internet addiction, or internet overuse creates hikikomori remains unclear. Both possibilities exist, and we herein propose the conceptual model of these hypothetical interactions. Clarifying the mechanisms of both conditions will help to solve these crucial issues for contemporary urban societies.