Scientists unite globally to tackle problematic internet use

QIMR Berghofer

Problematic internet use covers a broad range of addictive behaviours including excessive gaming, gambling, shopping, pornography viewing, social networking, cyber-bullying, and obsessive searching for medical information, known as cyberchondria.

QIMR Berghofer’s lead researcher on the project, Professor Murat Yücel, said BootStRaP is the world’s largest study of the growing problem.

“It is estimated 10 to 17 per cent of the global population and almost 25 per cent of all young people are affected by problematic use of the internet,” said Professor Yücel.

“Problematic internet use is associated with a growing range of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, loneliness, and body dysmorphia.

“Clearly, internet use has become a fundamental part of modern life, and it’s unrealistic to completely avoid it. Instead, we are focusing on empowering young people to manage their digital habits effectively and maintain balanced internet use in their daily lives,” he said.

But why is QIMR Berghofer involved in a study exclusive to teenagers in 14 European nations?

Professor Yücel says QIMR Berghofer is a world leader in mechanistic brain testing which is crucial to investigate the cognitive and brain mechanisms driving the problematic behaviour.

By pinpointing the specific neurocognitive mechanisms involved, scientists will be able to identify adolescents at risk of excessive use and design targeted prevention strategies.

“The project scientists are eager to help young people, parents, guardians, teachers, and healthcare professionals in identifying risks and understanding how they may lead to harm or poor health,” said Professor Yücel.

BootStRaP project leader Professor Naomi Fineberg at the University of Hertfordshire said there’s currently no reliable scientific evidence on problematic internet use.

“This project will investigate the online daily habits of young people using a mobile application (app). Young people will be directly involved in the co-creation of the app and in the study’s research process,” she said.

Professor Jose Menchon at the University of Barcelona who is leading the BootStRaP Societal and Policy Change working group, said the study aims to deliver global policy recommendations and guidelines based on robust scientific evidence.

BootStRaP brings together a consortium of leading international researchers and clinicians in collaboration with the World Health Organisation and is funded by the Horizon Europe program, UK Research and Innovation program and the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research, and Innovation.

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