For many people the concept of addiction involves the ingestion of a drug. However, there is now a growing movement that views a number of behaviors as potentially addictive, including some that do not involve the ingestion of a drug, such as gambling, sex, and exercise (Orford 2001; Griffiths 2005). Increasing research into behavioral addictions has also concentrated on a particular sub-group that has been termed “technological addictions.” Technological addictions are nonchemical (behavioral) addictions that involve excessive human–machine interaction. They can either be passive (e.g., watching television) or active (e.g., playing video games), and usually contain inducing and reinforcing features, which may contribute to the promotion of addictive tendencies. Possible activities that could be included under this category are such activities as television addiction, computer addiction (e.g., hacking, programming), video game addiction, mobile phone addiction, and Internet addiction.
Addiction is a complex biopsychosocial process and always results from an interaction and interplay between many factors, including the person’s biological and/or genetic predisposition, their psychological constitution (e.g., personality factors, unconscious motivations, attitudes, expectations and beliefs, etc.), their social environment and exposure (i.e., situational characteristics), and the nature of the activity itself (i.e., structural characteristics; Shaffer et al. 2004; Griffiths 2005). These many factors highlight the interconnected processes and integration between individual differences (i.e., personal vulnerability factors), situational characteristics, structural characteristics, and the resulting addictive behavior. However, there is little evidence that increased exposure alone to potentially addictive activities necessarily leads to higher rates of addiction, although increased access and opportunity to engage in the behaviors does usually lead to more people participating in that behavior. This is commonly referred to as the availability hypothesis (Griffiths 2003).
At a very simplistic level, addictions boil down to constant reinforcement (i.e., rewards). A person cannot become addicted to something unless they are constantly rewarded for the behavior they are engaged in. Many activities involving technological interaction are potentially addictive although the number of people who are truly addicted is small in number (Griffiths & Davies 2005; Widyanto & Griffiths 2006). Many addictions come about by the partial reinforcement effect (PRE). This is a critical psychological ingredient of addiction, whereby the reinforcement is intermittent, i.e., people keep responding in the absence of reinforcement, hoping that another reward is just around the corner. For instance, knowledge about the PRE gives a video game designer an edge in designing appealing games. Magnitude of reinforcement is also important. Large rewards lead to fast responding and greater resistance to extinction – in short, to more addiction. Instant reinforcement is also satisfying. Online gaming involves multiple reinforcements in that different features might be differently rewarding to different people. In video games more generally, the rewards might be intrinsic (e.g., improving your highest score, beating your friend’s high score, getting your name on the “hall of fame,” mastering the machine) or extrinsic (e.g., peer admiration).
In these cases, the interactive technologies may provide an alternative reality to the user and allow them feelings of immersion and anonymity that may lead to an altered state of consciousness. This in itself may be highly psychologically and/or physiologically rewarding. For a small minority of people this will lead to addiction, where the preferred activity is the single most important thing in that person’s life and for which they compromise and neglect everything else in their life.
It has been argued that the only way of determining whether behavioral addictions (such as video game, mobile phone, and Internet addictions) are addictive in a nonmetaphorical sense is to compare them against clinical criteria for other established drugingested addictions (Griffiths 2005). However, most people researching in the field of technological addiction have failed to do this, which has perpetuated the skepticism shown in many quarters of the addiction research community. The main problems with the addiction criteria suggested by most researchers in the field is that the measures used (1) have no measure of severity, (2) have no temporal dimension, (3) have a tendency to overestimate the prevalence of problems, and (4) take no account of the context of how the technology is used. There are also concerns about the sampling methods used. As a consequence, none of the surveys to date conclusively shows that technological addictions exist or are problematic to anyone but a small minority.
At best, they indicate that technological addictions may be prevalent in a significant minority of individuals but that more research using validated survey instruments and other techniques (e.g., in-depth qualitative interviews) are required. Case studies of excessive players and users may provide better evidence of whether technological addictions exist by the fact that the data collected are much more detailed. There are case study accounts in the literature that appear to show that excessive video game players and Internet users display many signs of addiction (e.g., Young 1996). These case studies tend to show that the activity is used to counteract other deficiencies and underlying problems in the person’s life (e.g., relationships, lack of friends, physical appearance, disability, coping, etc.).
As with all addictions, there is a potential for long-term damage but the good news is that very few people appear to have developed such problems in relation to increased access to technology. Healthy enthusiasms add to life; addictions take away from them. The vast majority of excessive users of interactive technologies claim their activity has positive effects for them. Many people use interactive technologies excessively without their having any negative impact on their lives at all.
- Griffiths, M. D. (2003). Problem gambling. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 16, 582 –584.
- Griffiths, M. D. (2005). A “components” model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191–197.
- Griffiths, M. D., & Davies, M. N. O. (2005). Videogame addiction: Does it exist? In J. Goldstein & J. Raessens (eds.), Handbook of computer game studies. Boston, MA: MIT Press, pp. 359 –368.
- Orford, J. (2001). Excessive appetites: A psychological view of the addictions, 2nd edn. Chichester: John Wiley.
- Shaffer, H. J., LaPlante, D. A., LaBrie, R. A., Kidman, R. C., Donato, A. N., & Stanton, M. V. (2004). Towards a syndrome model of addiction: Multiple expressions, common etiology. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 12, 1– 8.
- Widyanto, L., & Griffiths, M. D. (2006). Internet addiction: A critical review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 31–51.
- Young, K. (1996). Psychology of computer use: XL. Addictive use of the Internet: A case that breaks the stereotype. Psychological Reports, 79, 899 – 902.
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