Internet addiction and its facets: The role of genetics and the relation to self-directedness (2017)

Addict Behav. 2017 Feb;65:137-146. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.10.018.

Hahn E1, Reuter M2, Spinath FM3, Montag C4.


A growing body of research focuses on problematic behavior patterns related to the use of the Internet to identify contextual as well as individual risk factors of this new phenomenon called Internet addiction (IA). IA can be described as a multidimensional syndrome comprising aspects such as craving, development of tolerance, loss of control and negative consequences. Given that previous research on other addictive behaviors showed substantial heritability, it can be expected that the vulnerability to IA may also be due to a person’s genetic predisposition. However, it is questionable whether distinct components of IA have different etiologies.

Using data from a sample of adult monozygotic and dizygotic twins and non-twin siblings (N=784 individuals, N=355 complete pairs, M=30.30years), we investigated the magnitude of genetic and environmental influences on generalized IA as well as on specific facets such as excessive use, self-regulation, preference for online social interaction or negative consequences. To explain the heritability in IA, we further examined the relation to Self-Directedness as potential mediating source.

Results showed that relative contributions of genetic influences vary considerable for different components of IA. For generalized IA factors, individual differences could be explained by shared and non-shared environmental influences while genetic influences did not play a role. For specific facets of IA and private Internet use in hours per week, heritability estimates ranged between 21% and 44%. Bivariate analysis indicated that Self-Directedness accounted for 20% to 65% of the genetic variance in specific IA facets through overlapping genetic pathways. Implications for future research are discussed.

KEYWORDS: Genetics; Heritability; Internet addiction; Problematic Internet use; Self-Directedness

PMID: 27816039

DOI: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.10.018