NET NEWS: Internet Hazardous to Social Health?

Science  11 Sep 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5383, pp. 1567
DOI: 10.1126/science.281.5383.1567a

The first study of how the Internet affects people's social lives has found that it's lonely out there in cyberspace. Despite the Net's use as a means of communication, spending time online appeared to make participants more depressed as their face-to-face social interactions dwindled.

Psychologist Robert Kraut's team at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh installed computers with free Internet connections for 169 people in 73 previously unwired households. The group used software to track each person's hours online. Over the next 1 to 2 years, the researchers interviewed participants about their interactions with family and friends and measured their feelings of depression and loneliness using standard psychological tests.

The researchers found that as subjects logged more hours on the Internet, they talked less with their families, saw fewer friends, and scored higher on depression tests—even when they were online as little as 1 to 4 hours a week. This suggests that the social interactions people have through e-mail and other forms of Internet communication don't make up for the lost time spent nurturing face-to-face relationships, the researchers report in this month's issue of The American Psychologist.

The results aren't too surprising, says Maressa Hecht Orzack, director of Computer Addiction Services at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. “This is what I often hear from patients: ‘My wife is spending a lot of time on the Net, and she doesn't talk to me as much,’” she says.

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