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Content archived on 2024-06-18

Technological use disorders: European cross-cultural longitudinal and experimental studies for Internet and smartphone problem uses

Final Report Summary - TECH USE DISORDERS (Technological use disorders: European cross-cultural longitudinal and experimental studies for Internet and smartphone problem uses)

TECH USE DISORDERS project (TUD, onwards) has explored the uses and misuses of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT; i.e. computers, tablets, and mobile phones or smartphones) in European young adults. This research project also aimed to determine to what extent excessive use of ICT can be conceptualized within the spectrum of addictive disorders.

TUD has been compounded into two parts, articulated by two closely connected studies:

- Study 1: a cross-cultural, longitudinal study using mixed methods, conducted in young adults from the general population (mainly undergraduate students), by means of collaboration with 11 European Universities (Coordinator: catholic University of Leuven [UcL] (Belgium); Nottingham Trent University [NTU] (UK); Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense [U-Paris10], Universté de Nîmes Aix-Marseille and Université de Lille III (France); Universität zu Lübeck (Germany); Università Kore di Enna (Italy); Oulu University of Applied Sciences, University of Oulu and Oulu University Hospital (Finland); Eötvös Loránd University (Hungary); Universidad de Valencia [UV] (Spain); Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski Jana Pawła II (Poland); Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève [HUG] and Université de Genève [UNIGE] (Switzerland); University of Oslo (Norway).

- Study 2: an in-depth, cross-sectional study using mixed methods, combining a set of experiments and qualitative focus groups; both parts have been conducted using undergraduate samples extracted from the first study made at UcL in Belgium (based on their reported use of ICT).

The TUD was composed of four main objectives:

1) To select and adapt questionnaires measuring problematic ICT uses in order to conduct a cross-cultural study in Europe;
2) To estimate the prevalence of problematic ICT use in participating European countries through a longitudinal, three-waves, cross-cultural study;
3) To examine, through qualitative studies, perceptions and attitudes of European adults with regard to excessive and potential problematic ICT use;
4) To conduct experimental case-control studies to identify specific self-regulation-related deficits (e.g. inhibitory control) in potential problematic Belgian ICT users.

Level of achievement for each objective at the end of the research grant

1) Several scales measuring ICT use and misuse (e.g. Compulsive Internet Use Scale, short version of the Problematic Mobile Phone Use Questionnaire) have been successfully translated and validated in the various languages of participating countries. Other scales (e.g. measuring risk factors such as impulsivity traits) have also been translated and several of them will result in validation papers. The monitoring of questionnaire adaptation and implementation in the online survey was realized by the PI, under the supervision of her supervisor, assisted by European collaborators when necessary.

2) In order to reach this objective, a three wave (1st wave: February - May 2015, 2nd wave: September - December 2015; 3rd wave: February - May 2016) study was performed simultaneously in eleven European countries. The first wave was managed with the support of the European coordinators, and all data were stored by the PI in a server from UcL (i.e. Oasis). The European coordinators (academics, researchers, and clinicians) working either in universities or university hospitals monitored the first-wave recruitment in their countries and were responsible for reaching the minimal sample size required (N = 250). The second and third waves were managed online by the PI from Belgium, by re-contacting participants who agreed to participate on the longitudinal study (33% of the initial sample). Parallel to the third wave, and despite recruitment-related difficulties, the PI conducted an additional study in patients seeking treatment regarding ICT-related potential disorders, with the help of several European outpatients’ units and treatment centres (e.g. ‘Atención e Investigación en Socioadicciones’ [AIS]), in order to specify the characteristics (e.g. socio-demographics) of these patients and further validate the scales that have been adapted.

3) The qualitative studies relied on a double data collection strategy: (i) open questions included in the first wave online study in a subset of countries (based on the languages fluently spoken by the PI and the supervisor), and (ii) a set of focus groups conducted at UcL in people having preliminary reported elevated use of ICT. The questions addressed in this qualitative part of the research project were related to causes, development, consequences, and phenomenology of excessive ICT use.

4) A series of experimental studies were conducted on potential problematic ICT users and healthy matched participants. Data collection was realized in Belgium (UcL) between 2015-2016. The two groups were compared in terms of established risk factors for addictions, namely impulsivity traits (UPPS-P Impulsive Behaviors Scale), inhibitory control (Stop-Signal paradigm), and decision making (Game of Dice task).

The final results have include publishing a set of original research in recognized journals from the field (e.g. Addictive Behaviors, Computers in Human Behavior), in open access format where possible. The PI and her supervision are currently working on a number of papers. Future results will also be disseminated through the TUD website, hosted in the Laboratory for Experimental Psychopathology (LEP) website, in which all research material is provided in an open-access form. The potential impact and use of these future results will be spread via academic (e.g. conferences, seminars) and non-academic (e.g. American Psychiatric Association and World Health Organisation working groups) channels, as well as shared with European ‘behavioural addiction’ treatment centres (e.g. AIS, ‘Clinique des Troubles liés à Internet et au Jeu’), European research websites (e.g. Overview of European research projects), and other organisations with interest in these results (e.g. educative consortiums; e.g. Mirandanet).

The address of the public website for the project is

Contact details:

Olatz Lopez-Fernandez, PhD