From "online brains" to "online lives": understanding the individualized impacts of Internet use across psychological, cognitive and social dimensions

Joseph Firth, John Torous, José Francisco López-Gil, Jake Linardon, Alyssa Milton, Jeffrey Lambert, Lee Smith, Ivan Jarić, Hannah Fabian, Davy Vancampfort, Henry Onyeaka, Felipe B Schuch, Josh A. Firth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In response to the mass adoption and extensive usage of Internet-enabled devices across the world, a major review published in this journal in 2019 examined the impact of Internet on human cognition, discussing the concepts and ideas behind the "online brain". Since then, the online world has become further entwined with the fabric of society, and the extent to which we use such technologies has continued to grow. Furthermore, the research evidence on the ways in which Internet usage affects the human mind has advanced considerably. In this paper, we sought to draw upon the latest data from large-scale epidemiological studies and systematic reviews, along with randomized controlled trials and qualitative research recently emerging on this topic, in order to now provide a multi-dimensional overview of the impacts of Internet usage across psychological, cognitive and societal outcomes. Within this, we detail the empirical evidence on how effects differ according to various factors such as age, gender, and usage types. We also draw from new research examining more experiential aspects of individuals' online lives, to understand how the specifics of their interactions with the Internet, and the impact on their lifestyle, determine the benefits or drawbacks of online time. Additionally, we explore how the nascent but intriguing areas of culturomics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality are changing our understanding of how the Internet can interact with brain and behavior. Overall, the importance of taking an individualized and multi-dimensional approach to how the Internet affects mental health, cognition and social functioning is clear. Furthermore, we emphasize the need for guidelines, policies and initiatives around Internet usage to make full use of the evidence available from neuroscientific, behavioral and societal levels of research presented herein.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)176-190
Number of pages15
JournalWorld psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA)
Volume23
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024

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