J Med Internet Res. 2018 Jan 24;20(1):e33. doi: 10.2196/jmir.8947.
The cognitive-behavioral model of problematic Internet use (PIU) proposes that psychological well-being is associated with specific thoughts and behaviors on the Internet. Hence, there is growing concern that PIU is associated with psychological impairments.
Given the proposal of gender schema theory and social role theory, men and women are predisposed to experience social anxiety and engage in Internet use differently. Thus, an investigation of gender differences in these areas is warranted. According to the cognitive-behavioral model of PIU, social anxiety is associated with specific cognitions and behaviors on the Internet. Thus, an investigation of the association between social anxiety and PIU is essential. In addition, research that takes into account the multidimensional nature of social anxiety and PIU is lacking. Therefore, this study aimed to explore multivariate gender differences in and the relationships between social anxiety and PIU.
Participants included 505 college students, of whom 241 (47.7%) were women and 264 (52.3%) were men. Participants’ ages ranged from 18 to 22 years, with a mean age of 20.34 (SD=1.16). The Social Anxiety Scale and Problematic Internet Use Scale were used in data collection. Multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) and canonical correlation analysis were used.
Mean differences between men and women were not statistically significant in social anxiety (λ=.02, F3,501=2.47, P=.06). In all three PIU dimensions, men scored higher than women, and MANOVA shows that multivariate difference was statistically significant (λ=.94, F3,501=10.69, P<.001). Of the canonical correlation functions computed for men, only the first was significant (Rc=.43, λ=.78, χ29=64.7, P<.001) and accounted for 19% of the overlapping variance. Similarly, only the first canonical function was significant for women (Rc=.36, λ=.87, χ29=33.9, P<.001), which accounted for 13% of the overlapping variance.
On the basis of the findings, we conclude that enhanced educational opportunities for women and their increasing role in the society have led women to become more active and thus closed the gap in social anxiety levels between men and women. We found that men showed more difficulties than women in terms of running away from personal problems (ie, social benefit), used the Internet more excessively, and experienced more interpersonal problems with significant others due to Internet use. We conclude that men are under a greater risk of social impairments due to PIU. Our overall conclusion is that there is a substantial amount of association between social anxiety and PIU and the association is stronger for men than it is for women. We advise that future research continue to investigate PIU and social anxiety as multidimensional constructs.
KEYWORDS: Internet; addictive behavior; anxiety; sex characteristics; social anxiety disorder