Problematic internet use and mental distress in students: the role of impulsivity
The role of impulsivity in relationship of problematic internet use (PIU), anxiety and depressive symptoms is still under debate (Yücens & Üzer, 2018; Zhang, 2020). The aim of our study was to test the hypothesis that PIU influences anxiety and depressive symptoms through the mediating role of impulsivity.
The cross-sectional study comprised 124 students (19.4% males, mean age 23.6±5.2 years) from the universities in Lithuania, who participated in an online survey during May and June, 2020. Participants completed scales measuring PIU (the Problematic Internet Use Questionnaire, PIUQ-9), anxiety (the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Questionnaire, GAD-7), depression (the Patient Health Questionnaire, PHQ-9) symptoms, and impulsivity (the Barrat Impulsiveness Scale, BIS-21). Structural equation modelling (SEM) was applied to examine the mediating effect of impulsivity in associations between PIUQ-9, GAD-7 and PHQ-9 while controlling for age.
The SEM analyses supported two hypothesized structural models that describe the PIU influence on anxiety and depression symptoms (ꭓ2 = 0.933, df=2, p=0.627, CFI = 1.00, RMSEA = 0.00; ꭓ2 = 0.502, df=2, p=0.778, CFI = 1.00, RMSEA = 0.00). The models revealed statistically significant effect of PIU on anxiety symptoms and on depression symptoms, mediated via impulsivity. The models accounted for 15.8% of the total amount of anxiety scores variance and for 33.1% of the total amount of depression symptoms scores variance.
Study findings suggest that relationships between PIU, anxiety and depression symptoms are mediated by impulsivity. These results underscore the importance of the inclusion of impulsivity factor in the studies analyzing longitudinal effect of PIU on mental distress.