Is Internet Addiction Linked to Social Perfectionism?
Internet addiction is the unofficial name for a form of addiction that has its basis in problematic Internet use rather than in the problematic use of drugs or alcohol. The condition has no set definition in the U.S., although a number of potential symptoms have been identified. In a study published in June 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, a team of Italian and Canadian researchers explored the potential connection between problematic Internet involvement and a personal trait called social perfectionism. These researchers concluded that people affected by high levels of social perfectionism have increased risks for developing addiction-like patterns of Internet use.
Addictions that don’t stem from the use/misuse of drugs, medications or alcohol are known as behavioral addictions (or alternately as process addictions or addictive disorders). As a rule, a behavioral addiction centers on an activity that the vast majority of people engage in without experiencing any unusual harm. Well-noted examples of such activities include going shopping, eating sugary or fatty foods, having sex and participating in various forms of gambling. Current scientific evidence clearly indicates that people who develop addictive relationships to everyday activities can experience brain and behavioral alterations that closely resemble some of the key alterations produced by substance addiction. In line with this evidence, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognized the existence of non-substance-based addictions for the first time in May 2013.
Although the APA has not set official criteria for diagnosing Internet addiction, the organization has established a list of symptoms that might form the basis of such a diagnosis in the future. Symptoms on this list include failing to limit Internet participation, using the Internet with increasing frequency, having a preoccupation with Internet activities while doing other things, taking steps to hide the extent of Internet use and experiencing withdrawal-like changes in behavior when Internet availability does not meet needs or expectations. The American Psychiatric Association tentatively uses the term Internet gaming disorder to identify people significantly affected by these and other key symptoms. The organization has issued an open call for increased research on Internet addiction and for testing of the proposed symptoms of Internet gaming disorder.
Perfectionism is a personality trait that centers on a self-perceived need to do things “just right,” as well as on a recurring sense of personal failure when one’s actions inevitably fail to produce “perfect” results. Rather than promoting well-being and life success, a perfectionistic outlook typically degrades any sense of well-being and makes it harder to achieve successful outcomes. Social perfectionism, also known as socially prescribed perfectionism, is a form of perfectionism that occurs when a person believes that other important or highly esteemed people expect him or her to achieve a certain standard of perfection.
Impact on Internet Problems
In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, researchers from Italy’s University of Florence and Canada’s University of British Columbia examined the connection between social perfectionism and problematic Internet use with the help of 465 young men and women enrolled in college. They undertook their project to test a theory that holds that the social environments people encounter while online might have a significant impact on whether addictive patterns of Internet use will appear. Specific underlying aspects of social perfectionism explored by the researchers included fears of being perceived negatively by others during in-person social encounters and having relatively low levels of support from peers or other social groups.
The group of study participants was roughly divided between young men and young women. The researchers concluded that social perfectionism can increase the risks for problematic Internet use in both genders; however, they also concluded that the specific factors in play differ between genders. Among young men, increased risks for addiction-like behavior are linked to relatively high levels of fear about negative judgments during in-person social encounters, as well as to relatively low levels of social support. Conversely, among young women, increased risks for addiction-like behavior are linked only to high levels of fear during in-person encounters.
The study’s authors concluded that young women with relatively high levels of fear about being judged in social encounters experience both a direct and indirect increase in their chances of developing problematic patterns of Internet use. Altogether, the authors believe that social perfectionism may exert its impact on Internet behavior by making affected individuals more defensive than usual while taking part in Internet activities that require social interaction.