Autonomic stress reactivity and craving in individuals with problematic Internet use (2018)

PLoS One. 2018 Jan 16;13(1):e0190951. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0190951.

Moretta T1, Buodo G1.


The link between autonomic stress reactivity and subjective urge/craving has been less systematically examined in behavioral addictions (i.e. problematic Internet use) than in substance use disorders. The present study investigated whether problematic Internet users (PU) show enhanced autonomic stress reactivity than non-PU, indexed by lower Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and higher Skin Conductance Level (SCL) reactivity during the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), whether greater reactivity is related to stronger Internet craving, and whether problematic Internet usage is associated with some dysfunctional psychological features.

Based on their Internet Addiction Test scores, participants were divided into PU (N = 24) and non-PU (N = 21). Their heart rate and skin conductance were continuously recorded during baseline, social stressors, and recovery. Craving for Internet usage were collected using a Likert scale before and after the TSST. The SDNN, an overall measure of HRV, was significantly lower in PU than non-PU during baseline, but not during and after stressful task. Furthermore, only among PU a significant negative correlation emerged between SDNN during recovery and craving ratings after the test. No group differences emerged for SCL.

Lastly, PU endorsed more mood, obsessive-compulsive, and alcohol-related problems. Our findings suggest that problems in controlling one’s use of the Internet may be related to reduced autonomic balance at rest. Moreover, our results provide new insights into the characterization of craving in PIU, indicating the existence of a relationship between craving for Internet usage and reduced autonomic flexibility.

PMID: 29338020

PMCID: PMC5770068

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0190951

Free PMC Article