My name is Samantha Sallie, and I am a 2nd year PhD student under the guidance of Dr. Valerie Voon in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. In addition to conducting research in psychological mechanisms of resilience, I previously trained in statistics and philosophy of science at the University of Pennsylvania and London School of Economics. Currently, I am focusing on detecting and modulating neural networks governing impulsivity and compulsivity in drug and alcohol addiction, via both invasive and non-invasive brain stimulation approaches. Relatedly, my most recent work aimed to understand how the stress of isolation affected alcohol consumption and problematic internet usage in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the future, I hope to pair stimulation methods and cognitive tasks assessing mood-based impulsivity to inform more biologically-driven clinical treatments of addiction disorders.
Online gaming and pornography consumption during COVID-19 isolation: Highlighting distinct avenues of problematic internet use
Aims: The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has required drastic safety precautions to contain virus spread, involving a protracted self-isolation period. Those with greater perceived or actual life stress are vulnerable to develop Problematic Internet Use (PIU). Thus, we assessed how COVID-19 social isolation affected online gaming and pornography viewing behaviours in the general population.
Methods: We developed an online international survey, Habit Tracker (HabiT), completed by 2,873 adults (>18 years), which measured changes in online gaming (IGDS9-SF) and pornography viewing (CYPAT) behaviours before (post-hoc recall) and during the COVID-19 quarantine period. We also assessed psychiatric factors such as anxiety, depression (HADS), and impulsivity (SUPPS-P). Lastly, we related online gaming and pornography viewing behaviours to ten COVID-19-specific stress factors. The primary outcome measures were change in amount of, and current, gaming and pornography viewing severity during quarantine. The two measures were related to the COVID-19-related stress factors, and current severity of these behaviours to psychiatric symptomology.
Results: Of the sample, 63% increased gaming, and 44% increased pornography viewing. Those who increased gaming and pornography use during quarantine were younger individuals, males, those who left the quarantine household infrequently, those reported low frequency or poor quality social interactions, and those with higher depression, anxiety, and urgency.
Conclusions: Our findings underscore the phenomenological similarities between forms of PIU driven by stress, depression, anxiety, and impulsivity; while highlighting distinct avenues which PIU can manifest. We emphasise the relevance of identifying those in need of emotional regulation interventions, to mitigate PIU in the context of COVID-19 isolation.