Media Release: 15 September 2016

Less conscientious adolescents confronted with hostility at school are at greater risk of developing internet addiction, a psychology expert will tell the APS Congress, held in Melbourne, 13-16 September.

Dr Vasileios Stavropoulos, a senior lecturer in clinical psychology and coordinator of the Gaming Research Group at Federation University Australia, says his research shows adolescent females with lower levels of conscientiousness are more vulnerable to excessive internet use over time than adolescent males, when exposed to aggression and abuse in the classroom.

Conscientiousness is defined as a personality trait that comprises responsibility, reduced impulsivity and compliance to social rules. Research links decreased levels of the trait to other addictions, such as substance abuse.

Dr Stavropoulos’ study examined 648 students aged 16-18 years at 13 secondary schools over a two-year period in Greece. He found less conscientious adolescents turned to excessive internet use, such an online gaming, to combat stress and negative feelings.

“Hostile classrooms during adolescence are environments that increase a need to escape because adolescents want to relate, they have very high needs to socialise,” he says. “If they cannot address these needs in their real life, which is most usually the classroom where they spend six to seven hours per day, then they may find it easier to substitute this online where they feel more easily accepted.”

Online addiction has emerged as a worldwide phenomenon in the past decade. While a 2010 Australian study of more than 1300 Tasmanian students indicated 4.6% of students met the six criteria for internet addiction, no study exists to show just how prevalent the disorder is nationwide.

Dr Stavropoulos says, “There have been studies that show games can have very positive outcomes but it depends on the individual - some gamers are more vulnerable and face difficulties and they need to be protected.” 

He recommends Australia introduce a legal framework, similar to responsible gambling legislation and regulations, to protect adolescents at greater risk of types of internet addiction, such as online gaming addiction also known as Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD).

Dr Stavropoulos, who has studied internet addiction and IGD among adolescents for seven years, is collaborating on a large international research project examining the cross-cultural understanding, prevention and treatment of IGD among people aged 18 to 29 in Australia, the United Kingdom, United States, Greece and South Korea.

A first of its kind, the study will assess the combination of factors that increase or decrease the risk of IGD symptoms, and will examine whether cultural differences play a role in gaming addiction.

Dr Stavropoulos will speak about internet addiction and internet gaming disorder at the 2016 APS Congress, held in Melbourne from September 13 - 16, 2016.

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Notes to editors:

Dr Stavropoulos will present his research on internet gaming addiction from 8.30 - 9.45am on Thursday September 15, and is available for interview.

For more information, or to arrange an interview, call the Rebecca Matthews on 0435 896 444, Karen Coghlan on 0411 930 512 or email media@psychology.org.au. Find us on Twitter: @AustPsych.