A depressing obsession?

Well, I guess you may have reached this blog after a long surf on the internet. You may have browsed news sites, sports reports, shopping pages, style advice, and goodness knows what, and now some link has brought you here. Well, welcome. But if you are now feeling a tad depressed, it may not be the quality and content of this blog, after all. In fact, according to some research carried out by an Australian team in China, obsessive surfing of the internet is linked with depression.

What makes them conclude this? Well, these guys studied 1,000 high school students in southern China, and found that those who said they were addicted to the internet were also 2.5 times more likely to be depressed. According to Time magazine, this is what the researchers concluded:

‘The results indicate that people who use the Internet pathologically are most at risk of mental problems and would develop depression when they continue with that behavior.’

Of course I haven’t seen the detailed analysis, but on the basis of the report I would find the conclusion to be dubious. First, the greater risk of depression was associated with those who self-reported an internet ‘addiction’, and for me this raises all sorts of issues about the state of mind of those declaring in this way. Secondly, the researchers suggest that excessive internet use may cause depression, but it seems to me that their research establishes no such thing: it could just as easily indicate that a depressed person may seek relief by browsing the web. I cannot see that anything causal has been established.

I am sure that the internet can be and sometimes is misused, and I can equally imagine that excessive web browsing is not a good idea. Furthermore, as the internet has become part of the fabric of daily life it is right to ask questions abut its use. But in such cases we need to take care not to jump to facile conclusions, and then not to take steps to limit internet use based on such conclusions.

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4 Comments on “A depressing obsession?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    How much more depressed would they be if they hadn’t the Net. At least the screen would be giving them some light rather than it used to be where teens would skulk in black painted bedrooms.

  2. cormac Says:

    I remain continually astonished at the number of social studies that onfuse cause with co-relation.

    Sadly, people then accuse scientists of doing the same thing in studies of global warming when in fact causual evidence is quite strong..the same mistake in reverse

    • Perry Share Says:

      Well, these people were reportedly epidemiologists, so I am not sure if they are ‘social scientists’ or just ordinary ‘scientists’. In my view epidemiologists are best left to the number-crunching, and should leave the analysis of causative mechanisms to microbiologists, geneticists &c. Also the report was in Time magazine, so I don’t suppose we should be expecting the level of academic attachment that would normally apply!

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