Study finds that heavy internet use is linked to depression

Posted on February 3, 2010


According to a recent research study out of Leeds University in the UK, scientists have found that the longer people spent online, the less likely they were to be happy. A small segment of the worst affected individuals were both depressed and addicted. However, the “chicken and egg” dynamic seem to be at play in that the study results are not clear as far as cause and effect.  In other words, one question needing to be addressed is: Does using the internet cause mental health issues or are people with mental health problems drawn to the web? Taking it a step further, the study does not explore whether one being located in Philadelphia (as an example) or anywhere else for that matter is impacted differently by their time on the internet.

The research methodology that scientists implemented to conduct the study was an online questionnaire. The research instrument drilled down to assess levels of internet dependency and depression. The total sample size of respondents was 1,319 and their ages ranged from 16 to 51. As a marketing researcher, it would be insightful to break the data down further by demographics (i.e. age, gender, geography, income, etc.) and understand how participants were recruited because these elements are likely driving the results and may not be indicative of the general population.  Moreover, a sampling frame addressing the aforementioned points would be more credible when making bold statements such as, "Heavy internet usage is linked to depression." 

With all that being said, one study finding was that the longer people spent online the more depressed they tended to be.  In the words of one scientist involved in the research, "There was a high correspondence between the amount of time spent on the internet and levels of depression." The scientist, Dr. Morrison, also stated, "If you look at how dependent people feel that are on the internet that is likely to correspond with how happy or sad they feel."

As an early adopter and heavy user of the internet, my response would be, "I must be a total basket case as would be many of my friends!" As researchers, we must be responsible when reporting study findings and not leap to broad conclusions based on a single sample without performing critical thinking or doing the necessary rigor to make sure we report credible findings. How many of you reading this blog would fall into the depressed category per the study’s conclusion? Please answer before seeing the photo below, which will bias one towards a deep depression and potentially ongoing nightmares.