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Advances in Psychiatry and Neurology/Postępy Psychiatrii i Neurologii
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Original paper

The relationship between problematic internet use and the need for cognitive closure

Andrzej Cudo
,
Natalia Kopiś
,
Agnieszka Jarząbek-Cudo
,
Rafał Szewczyk
,
Marcin Demczuk

Adv Psychiatry Neurol 2019; 28 (3): 199-207
Online publish date: 2019/10/31
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- PPiN-00092-Cudo.pdf  [0.70 MB]
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INTRODUCTION

In today’s world the development of modern technologies, including the Internet, has led to easier access to information, communication, and services (such as shops, banks, public institutions, etc.). Network users may take advantage of many applications which assist them in everyday tasks. For these reasons, fewer and fewer people are able to imagine living without this communication tool [1, 2]. Apart from the observed positive changes, however, there is more and more data indicating some problems and harm that may be caused by dysfunctional, addictive use of the Internet [3, 4]. Among young adult males, it has been found that 6.3% of them manifest problematic Internet use, while the figure for females is 4.3% [5]. Similar results have been obtained in other studies on Polish samples [6, 7]. However, new studies [8] indicate a contradictory relationship or no difference in problematic Internet use between men and women [9]. Moreover, Poprawa [10], who carried out a study in Poland on a group of 6119 people aged from 9 to 65, found that 13.06% of those aged below 24 belong to the group at risk of problematic Internet use, while 2.08% exhibit addictive use; the respective percentages for those aged over 24 were 12.79% and 1.96%. In this context, Cudo et al. [9] showed that 0.3% (women: 0.4%; men: 0.3%) of young Polish adults displayed symptoms of problematic Internet use and 6.6% (women: 5.8%; men: 8.8%) of individuals belonged to the group at risk of problematic Internet use. In the adolescent group, Rębisz et al. [11] presented evidence to the effect that 0.4% of adolescents exhibited addictive use of the Internet, and 10.7% of individuals were in the risk group. Similar results were obtained by Cudo et al. [12]. They also showed that 0.4% of adolescents presented symptoms of problematic Internet use. Additionally, they found that 5.9% of adolescent individuals belonged to the group at risk of problematic Internet use. Hence, the problem of addictive Internet use is one of the most significant issues faced by contemporary society.
There are many terms used in the subject literature related to dysfunctional network use: Internet addiction, problematic Internet use, compulsive computer use, netoholism, pathological Internet use, etc. [13]. This results from the fact that different researchers approach the phenomenon in different ways [14, 15]. Tokunaga and Rains [16] distinguish three approaches to the issue of problematic Internet use, wherein it is treated as: 1) a behaviour on the spectrum of obsessive-compulsive disorders or impulse control disorders; 2) a behaviour analogous to dependence on psychoactive substances; or 3) a behaviour linked to deficits in resources related to social relations and their formation. To date, however, no systematic or uniform criteria for Internet addiction that could be used in international classifications have been established. Only a dependency on online games – Internet Gaming Disorder – appears in the American Psychiatric Association’s fifth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), although not as a separate nosological unit, but in Section III, as a behavior requiring further research [17]. According to Kimberly Young [18] Internet addiction is a disorder of habit control which does not cause intoxication, but significantly and visibly impairs a person’s functioning in all areas of life (social, familial, professional, personal). It ought to be diagnosed when five of the following eight symptoms are found to have occurred in the past year: 1) strong absorption in the Internet, 2) increasing need to spend more and more time online, 3) repeated unsuccessful attempts to control one’s own Internet use, 4) the appearance of strong negative emotions when Internet use is restricted, 5) problems with organising one’s online time, 6) stress, personal problems and social problems resulting from Internet use, 7) manipulation in relations and 8) regulation of the emotions by means of online activity. In addition, Beard and Wolf assert that the following five symptoms must occur: 1) committed online activity, 2) need to spend more and more time using the Internet to achieve a similar level of satisfaction, 3) unsuccessful attempts to control Internet use, 4) appearance of anxiety and irritation, and 5) spending more time online than originally planned [19]. According to Augustynek [20], the syndrome of Internet addiction is characterised by six symptoms: 1) strong desire or feeling of compulsion to use the Internet, 2) increasing difficulties in stopping oneself from going online, 3) negative feelings caused by lack of access to the Internet (anxiety, psychomotor stimulation, obsessive thoughts and fantasising about the Internet, and depressive mood), 4) increasing frequency and duration of Internet use in spite of its destructive effect on health and social relations, 5) reduction or complete loss of non-computer-related interests, social and professional activities and ability to rest, 6) devotion of a large amount of time to activities that are indirectly Internet-related. For the purposes of the present work, the term ‘problematic Internet use’ will be used.
Previous research into problematic Internet use has primarily considered personality, and social and emotional issues [21-25]. There are few studies addressing the question of the cognitive functioning of persons who exhibit such problematic Internet use [26, 27]. Brand et al. [28] state that problematic Internet use is a consequence of predisposing neurobiological and psychological factors, which are moderated by, among other things, coping style and cognitive errors. They also show that significant mediating factors are the cognitive and emotional ways of reacting in Internet-use situations, in combination with reduced effectiveness of cognitive control. In this context, research into the cognitive functioning of persons experiencing problematic Internet use has shown that they have problems with decision-making [24], similarly to persons with a dependency on narcotics [30]. Persons with an Internet gaming dependency also display such a tendency [31], particularly in situations contextually related to the situation of gaming [32]. They take riskier and unfavorable decisions in spite of being aware of the negative consequences. The results of these studies appear to be analogous to earlier results concerning persons with opiate dependencies and gamblers [33].
For these reasons, it is important to investigate relationships between problematic Internet use and ways of making decisions and organizing incoming information. This question is significant, on the one hand, in order to ensure adequate assistance for people displaying this type of problematic behavior and, on the other hand, for the purpose of organizing educational systems. In this regard, the need for cognitive closure would appear to be an important factor to be considered when analyzing an individual’s motivation to seek and possess knowledge, leading to a reduction in cognitive uncertainty [34, 35]. High levels of the need for cognitive closure are linked to (1) shallow analysis of incoming information, and (2) motivation to seek information consistent with the individual’s existing knowledge structure. This may lead to the formation of a rigid and unchangeable picture of a situation. It should be emphasized that such actions may lead to the simplification of given situations, and, that in this way the person may construct a scheme that provides a feeling of predictability, rationality, and order. More¬over, people with a high need for cognitive closure avoid ambiguous situations. In turn, a low need for cognitive closure is associated with greater tolerance of uncertainty, which may lead to a deeper and more thorough analysis of a situation and greater openness to incoming information. Such persons have a tendency to seek information about new situations and to consider various alternatives, and more easily adapt to alternative situations. They are also more prone to seek non-stereotypical solutions to problems and accept ambiguity more easily [36-38].
Besides this, the need for cognitive closure is related to the way in which individuals perceive the surrounding social world and act within it [39, 40]. Kruglanski and Webster [40] also describe the “seizing” and “freezing” of information as two processes underlying that need: persons with a high need for cognitive closure have a tendency to take a selective approach to incoming information, based particularly on whether it is consistent with their existing knowledge. Information that is inconsistent with the individual’s system of knowledge is mostly ignored. Hence, it is difficult for such persons to change their opinions, convictions and beliefs under the influence of incoming information [36, 41].
It has been shown that persons with low and high levels of the need for cognitive closure have different ways of browsing and using websites [42, 43]. The former prefer pages with large numbers of links and additional content, while the latter tend to avoid such pages [42]. A positive correlation has been found between the need for cognitive closure and the ability to suppress reaction [39], which in turn is reduced in persons exhibiting problematic Internet use [44]. Moreover, the need for cognitive closure is also related to other executive functions [45], a deficit of which, according to the model of Brand et al. [28], is a significant element related to the mechanism of problematic Internet use. Other researchers have demonstrated a negative correlation between the need for cognitive closure and risky decision-making [46]. In this context, it should be noted that persons using the Internet problematically have an increased tendency to make risky choices [47]. Therefore, the need for cognitive closure may be an important motivational factor in understanding problematic Internet use, in particular the mechanism related to the difficulty of controlling the use of the network.
Considering the significance of the need for cognitive closure in the context of information seeking and cognitive rigidity [37], it appears to be of importance in understanding how such a need affects problematic Internet use. The results reported here may lead to a better understanding of why problematic behaviors persist in spite of knowledge about their adverse effects. They may also help to analyze the ways in which people exhibiting problematic Internet use obtain and consolidate knowledge about the surrounding world and about themselves. Considering the link between the need for cognitive closure and the ability to suppress reactions [39], and the taking of risky decisions [46], it may be expected that a higher level of this type of epistemic need may be a protective factor against problematic Internet use. Therefore, considering differences in the strategies of online information seeking between persons with a low and high need for cognitive closure, it may be expected that links will be found between this type of need and problematic Internet use. Hence, the aim of this study was to examine the relationship between this factor and whether the level of need for cognitive closure correlated with lower and higher intensities of problematic Internet use. Based on the theoretical discussions and empirical findings referred to above, we have formulated the hypothesis that a higher need for cognitive closure will be related to lower problematic Internet use. Also, we postulate that the need for cognitive closure will be a differentiating factor between persons with lower and higher problematic Internet use.

METHODS

Study group

The study was carried out on a group of 288 young adults (203 of whom were women) who completed a paper questionnaire. Data from 8 participants were removed from further analyses due to incomplete data scores. The final sample consisted of 280 participants. The participants’ ages ranged from 19 to 31 years (M = 21.99; SD = 2.43); most of them were university students from Lublin. Four categories were defined depending on the place of residence: rural areas (23.1%), towns with up to 30,000 inhabitants (13.7%), towns with up to 70,000 inhabitants (10.2%) and larger towns (53.0%). Surveys were carried out from January to April 2016. The mean time spent on using the Internet per week was 41.91 hours, with a standard deviation of 24.37 hours. All subjects were volunteers and they received no monetary reward. They were informed that their responses would be anonymous. The study was conducted in compliance with the Declaration of Helsinki.

Methods

1. Problematic Internet Use Test (TPUI22). This is a Polish adaptation of Kimberly Young’s IAT, made by Ryszard Poprawa [10]. The method is based on Young’s Internet addiction criteria [17]. It consists of 22 items. Respondents give answers on a six-point scale, indicating how often they perform certain actions or experience certain feelings related to Internet use. Possible final scores lie in the range 0-110, where results above 49 indicate a greater number of confirmed symptoms of problematic Internet use. The method has very good psychometric properties: Cronbach’s alpha is 0.935, the discriminative power of items ranges from 0.40 to 0.70, and the split-half reliability is 0.95, with a correlation between halves of 0.91 [10]. Moreover, it is based on one of the most globally popular and frequently used tools for the evaluation of the intensity of problematic Internet use.
2. The Need for Closure Scale [35], used in the Polish version made by Małgorzata Kossowska [36]. The questionnaire consists of 32 questions. Answers are supplied on a six-point scale, where 1 denotes strong disagreement and 6 denotes complete agreement (Cronbach’s alpha: 0.86). The questionnaire is composed of five subscales: 1) preference for order and structure in the environment (Cronbach’s alpha: 0.81); 2) preference for predictability of future contexts (Cronbach’s alpha: 0.73); 3) affective discomfort occasioned by ambiguity (Cronbach’s alpha: 0.66); 4) closed-mindedness (Cronbach’s alpha: 0.61), and 5) decisiveness (Cronbach’s alpha: 0.73) [36]. An overall index of need for cognitive closure is computed out of the first four of these [48]. The Decisiveness subscale pertains more to the ability to make decisions than to the motivational aspect related to the expression of the need for cognitive closure [49].
3. A questionnaire about socio-demographic details and about the number of times spent on using the Internet (hours per week).

RESULTS

Descriptive statistics are presented in the form of means and standard deviations for each variable studied. Also, for all study subjects, coefficients of correlation between variables were computed on the basis of Pearson’s r. The calculations showed a weak positive correlation between affective discomfort occasioned by ambiguity, and level of problematic Internet use. A weak negative correlation between the result on the Decisiveness subscale and problematic Internet use, and between the Closed-mindedness subscale and problematic Internet use were also identified. Detailed results appear in Table 1. The SPSS 22 software was used for all statistical analysis.
To enable comparisons between persons with lower, moderate and higher levels of problematic Internet use, respondents were classified according to norms determined for the Polish population (lower problematic Internet use group: n = 43; TPUI22 score: M = 6.07, SD = 3.22, range from 0 to 10; moderate problematic Internet use group: n = 194; TPUI22 score: M = 26.03, SD = 9.83, range from 11 to 49; higher problematic Internet use group: n = 43; TPUI22 score: M = 62.91, SD = 11.29, range from 50 to 88) [10]. To determine differences between the groups with regard to the various dimensions of the need for cognitive closure and time spent using the Internet per week, an analysis was performed using a 1-MANOVA model of type II [50] and Bonferroni’s post hoc test.
The analysis revealed statistically significant differences between the levels of problematic Internet use with regard to the results obtained on subscales of the Need for Closure Scale and the number of hours of weekly Internet use (F(7.272) = 5.60, p < 0.001, η2 = 0.13). These differences relate to amount of time devoted to Internet use and to the Closed-mindedness and Decisiveness subscales (see Table 2).
To identify the factors which discriminate to the greatest degree between persons with lower and higher levels of problematic Internet use, stepwise discriminant analysis based on Wilks’ lambda was used. The criterion for the inclusion of variables was F = 3.84, and the criterion for exclusion was F = 2.71. Analysis of variance was also performed, where the dependent variable was the discriminant results, and the independent variable was group membership. Discriminant analysis was also used to verify the extent to which the selected predictors lead to the correct assignment of persons to groups with lower (n = 43) and higher (n = 43) levels of problematic Internet use. The a priori probability was computed on the basis of the group’s size.
The analysis showed that among the young adults studied, the predictors in the model explaining the difference between persons with lower and higher levels of problematic Internet use are (F(1.69) = 20.67, p < 0.001, η2 = 0.23). The assumption of equality of covariance matrices was satisfied (Box’s M test: F(6.51123) = 0.58, p = 0.744). Group membership explains approximately 28% of the variance in the discriminant results. Furthermore, the result obtained for canonical correlation indicates that the function found is significantly related to the grouping variable. It was found that a lower level of closed-mindedness and decisiveness, in combination with a greater number of hours of weekly Internet use, leads to a greater probability of a higher level of problematic Internet use. The detailed analysis appears in Table 3.
Based on the classification obtained, it was shown that Closed-mindedness, Decisiveness, and number of hours of weekly Internet use make the greatest contribution to the correct assignment of subjects with a lower level of problematic Internet use (79.1% correct classifications), and the correct prediction of membership of the group with a higher level of problematic Internet use (62.8% correct classifications). Detailed results are given in Table 4.

DISCUSSION

We hypothesized that a higher need for cognitive closure would be related to lower problematic Internet use. Also, we postulated that need for cognitive closure would be a differentiating factor between persons displaying lower and higher levels of problematic Internet use. The analysis has shown that problematic Internet use is only linked to certain dimensions of the need for cognitive closure, namely to Closed-mindedness and Decisiveness. It has been also observed that these dimensions discriminate between participants with lower and higher levels of problematic Internet use. Along with the number of hours of weekly Internet use, they are also significant predictors, enabling primarily the prediction of membership to the group of persons with a lower level of problematic Internet use. Lower results on the aforementioned subscales of the Need for Closure Scale were associated with higher levels of problematic Internet use, as were greater numbers of hours of weekly Internet use.
It should be noted that persons with a higher level of Closed-mindedness are motivated to resist or ignore information conflicting with their existing beliefs but rely on expected categories. This is also linked to resistance to new ideas and experiences, and thus to resistance to change [51]. Chernikova et al. [52] showed that a higher level of Closed-mindedness was associated with stronger anxiety towards new technologies and lower willingness to use them. Thus, persons with this type of epistemic motivation avoid contact with new technologies, and for this reason may exhibit lower levels of dysfunctional behavior connected with such technologies. Moreover, Closed-mindedness is linked to lower creativity and greater preference for the values of conformity and tradition [53]. In this sense, conformity relates to the suppression of one’s actions, goals, and impulses that might harm or annoy other people or violate social expectations and norms. Tradition as a value relates to the acceptance and maintenance of customs, ideas, and the traditions of one’s own culture, religion or family; also to the respect shown towards tradition. In addition, this type of motivation is associated with a lower preference for the value known as self-direction, namely independence in thought, action and choices, creativity and freedom [54]. It has also been shown that a higher level of Closed-mindedness is linked to a lower tendency for compromise and lower confidence in one’s own intellect [55]. Thus, on the one hand people with a higher level of Closed-mindedness prefer conservative values. However, one the other hand, in view of their low creativity and willingness to compromise, they may decline to choose new technologies and their mobile applications. This is particularly linked to the fact that persons with a higher level of Closed-mindedness exhibit a strong affective reaction to uncertainty [56].
In turn, persons with a higher level of Decisiveness have a greater tendency to select simple, incompatible strategies for decision-making. They also devote less time to seeking preliminary information before taking a decision [57]. The lower level of decisiveness is associated with higher level of general distress and proneness to anxiety and depressive moods [58]. These factors, in turn, are linked to higher levels of problematic Internet use [59]. A positive correlation has also been found between Decisiveness and functional impulsivity, in addition to negative correlations with dysfunctional impulsivity, urgency and lack of perseverance. Persons with higher Decisiveness more rarely exhibit non-specific behaviour characterized by difficulties in making choices in a situation in which different options are presented [60]. These results are in agreement with earlier studies that have revealed greater dysfunctional inhibitory control and impulsivity in persons exhibiting addictive behaviors [61]. As in the case of Closed-mindedness, Decisiveness is also associated with greater preference for the value of conformity and with lower self-direction [49].
Brand et al. [28, 62] report that in the case of functional Internet use, the network serves as a tool for the fulfillment of personal needs and goals in everyday life. In this situation, the Internet is not related to a dysfunctional coping style or with the gratification attained in contact with various specific types of online content. In this context, higher levels of Closed-mindedness and Decisiveness may prompt people to use the Internet to fulfill only those needs and goals which they have set by themselves. They also do not feel the need to seek new information, and thus to spend more time online navigating between different sites. Also, a preference for the choice of simple, incompatible strategies for decision-making may mean that such a person does not spend a lot of time online, seeking new solutions and information, but can concentrate only on performing specified tasks and finding specific information. This is consistent with previous studies that indicated that persons with low levels of the need for cognitive closure prefer pages with large numbers of links and additional information, while persons with high levels of the need for cognitive closure tend to avoid such pages [42, 43].
However, it should be noted that no relationship has been found between the overall result obtained on the Need for Closure Scale and the level of problematic Internet use. It has been shown only that Closed-mindedness and Decisiveness are linked to problematic Internet use, where Decisiveness is a factor linked more to the ability to decide than to the motivational aspect related to the expression of the need for cognitive closure [49]. In this context, Decisiveness may be described as the ability to make a quick decision rather a need to find the answer as soon as possible [63]. In this situation, perhaps the problematic Internet use is associated with a need for cognitive closure understood as some kind of ability. However, further research is needed in order to thoroughly verify this assumption.
The present study may serve as a contribution to the search for the mechanisms of problematic Internet use, in particular in the context of indicating the possible significance of cognitive motivation as a discriminating factor between persons with lower and higher levels of problematic Internet use. However, it is necessary to bear in mind certain limitations resulting from their specific nature in making use of the results. Above all, attempts at generalizing the results to the population as a whole should be made cautiously, since the sample was selected from a group of young adults and therefore it is not representative for the overall population. Additionally, the majority of the people in the study group were women. Therefore, the results should be applied with caution to men. Moreover, the quasi-experimental nature of the study means that it is not possible to draw unambiguous conclusions concerning causal directions. For these reasons, too, further research is needed in order to establish a more precise description of the causes and effects of problematic Internet use, taking epistemic motivation into account.

Conflict of interest/Konflikt interesu

Absent./Nie występuje.

Financial support/Finansowanie

Absent./Nie występuje.

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