Br J Psychiatry. 2019 Feb 20:1-8. doi: 10.1192/bjp.2019.3.
Excessive use of the internet is increasingly recognised as a global public health concern. Individual studies have reported cognitive impairment in problematic internet use (PIU), but have suffered from various methodological limitations. Confirmation of cognitive deficits in PIU would support the neurobiological plausibility of this disorder.AimsTo conduct a rigorous meta-analysis of cognitive performance in PIU from case-control studies; and to assess the impact of study quality, the main type of online behaviour (for example gaming) and other parameters on the findings.
A systematic literature review was conducted of peer-reviewed case-controlled studies comparing cognition in people with PIU (broadly defined) with that of healthy controls. Findings were extracted and subjected to a meta-analysis where at least four publications existed for a given cognitive domain of interest.
RESULTS: The meta-analysis comprised 2922 participants across 40 studies. Compared with controls, PIU was associated with significant impairment in inhibitory control (Stroop task Hedge’s g = 0.53 (s.e. = 0.19-0.87), stop-signal task g = 0.42 (s.e. = 0.17-0.66), go/no-go task g = 0.51 (s.e. = 0.26-0.75)), decision-making (g = 0.49 (s.e. = 0.28-0.70)) and working memory (g = 0.40 (s.e. = 0.20-0.82)). Whether or not gaming was the predominant type of online behaviour did not significantly moderate the observed cognitive effects; nor did age, gender, geographical area of reporting or the presence of comorbidities.
CONCLUSIONS: PIU is associated with decrements across a range of neuropsychological domains, irrespective of geographical location, supporting its cross-cultural and biological validity. These findings also suggest a common neurobiological vulnerability across PIU behaviours, including gaming, rather than a dissimilar neurocognitive profile for internet gaming disorder.
KEYWORDS: Behavioral addiction; internet addiction; internet gaming disorder; meta-analysis; problematic internet use