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Examination of addiction and level of engagement in potentially addictive activities : gambling, video-arcade games, computer games and the internet


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Thomas, NJ 2007 , 'Examination of addiction and level of engagement in potentially addictive activities : gambling, video-arcade games, computer games and the internet', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Recent advances in the field of addiction have given greater emphasis to subjective
experience and compulsive behaviour. This signifies an important shift from focusing
on the object of addiction to acknowledging that behaviours, which can induce changes
in physical arousal and subjective experience, have the propensity to be overused and
lead to addiction. Gambling, video-arcade games, computer games, and the Internet
have therefore been identified as potentially addictive activities, which like drug use,
also exist on a continuum of addiction, ranging from no symptoms of addiction to
addiction. Researchers have also emphasised the need to distinguish high engagement in
activities and addiction (e.g., Charlton, 2002). The aims of the present research are
therefore to extend current knowledge on the level of participation and prevalence of
addiction to these four activities and to investigate continuum hypotheses of addiction.
Study 1 focused on establishing the level of engagement and prevalence of
students endorsing symptoms of addiction due to their involvement in gambling, videoarcade
games, computer games, and the Internet. A sample of 1762 (845 female) school
students from rural and urban Tasmanian schools (Grades 4 to 12) and 709 (509 female)
university students participated in Study 1. Lifetime participation and frequency and
duration of engagement in on-line games and the Internet was higher amongst this
sample of Australian students compared to previous research conducted on youth (e.g.,
Tejeiro Salguero & Bersabe Moran, 2002; Wang, 2001). A lower percentage of students
met the modified criteria for addiction compared to previous studies, however, the
prevalence of sub-clinical computer game and Internet addiction was higher than that
reported by past researchers (e.g., Chou & Hsiao, 2000; Johansson & Gatestam, 2004).
Risk factors found to predict addiction significantly (e.g., high engagement) were
consistent with previous studies (e.g., Chou & Hsiao, 2000; Clarke & Rossen, 2000; Johansson & Gatestam, 2004). The identification of risk factors associated with subclinical
and clinical addiction has implications for future prevention programs.
Three continuum hypotheses were investigated in Studies 2, 3 and 4; low
engagement through to addiction, continuum of increasing engagement and addiction
symptomatology, and continuum of addiction symptomatology. In Study 2 (N = 80), the
P3a and P3b components of the ERP were examined as these components are proposed
to act as a trait marker for substance addiction and index externalizing disorders of
disinhibition (P3b only). A difficult discrimination three-stimulus visual oddball
paradigm was employed to elicit maximum fronto-central P3a to the non-target
distractor stimuli and centro-parietal P3b to targets. It was hypothesized that both P3a
and P3b amplitude would be sequentially reduced in participants with progressively
greater engagement and symptoms of addiction. In Study 3 (N = 79) the mismatch
negativity (MMN) component, known to index impulsivity, alcoholism, and CNS
disinhibition and hyper-excitability, was examined using a two-stimulus unattended
passive auditory oddball task. It was hypothesized that, compared to the P3a and P3b
results, the inverse relationship would be reflected in MMN amplitude.
A significant widespread reduction in P3a amplitude was found in Study 2, only
among participants with either a sub-clinical or clinical level of addiction compared to
those with no symptoms of addiction. Significant results were established for each
continuum hypothesis when examining the amplitude of the P3b component. P3b
amplitude indexed a dichotomous distinction between lower levels of engagement
and/or no symptoms of addiction (non-clinical group), and participants with either a
sub-clinical or clinical level of addiction and/or high level of engagement in
activity(ies). Findings for both P3a and P3b amplitude indicate that the critical factor
was not whether a diagnosis of addiction was met, but rather whether students did or did
not experience some symptoms of addiction. These reductions in P3a and P3b amplitude among students with a sub-clinical level of addiction are consistent with
suggestions that genetic trait markers for risk of addiction should also be present among
sub-clinical populations (Slutske, Eisen, True, Lyons, Goldberg & Tsuang, 2000). In
line with past research investigating substance addiction, these findings suggest that
participants with lower levels of engagement and/or no addictive symptoms had more
resources available to perform the task than participants with either a sub-clinical
presentation or diagnosis of addiction. However, in contrast to previous studies of
participants with substance addiction, findings from Study 3 revealed that the amplitude
of the MMN was not significantly higher among those with addiction, sub-clinical
addiction and/or high engagement. In accordance with MMN findings, Study 4
established that the Addicted group were not significantly different to other participants
according to extraversion or neuroticism dimensions, suggesting therefore that this
sample may not be as impulsive as individuals with substance addiction.
The absence of significant MMN amplitude differences suggests that reductions in
P3a and P3b amplitude recorded for groups with a sub-clinical, or above, level of
addiction are specifically related to differences in cognitive processing that requires
attentional resources and not to pre-attentive automatic processing of incoming stimuli.
Furthermore, as the Addicted sample did not display significantly higher traits of
extra version or neurotic ism in conjunction with the absence of increased MMN
amplitude, it appears that these forms of behavioural addiction are not related to
impulsivity, and therefore suggests that they are not externalizing behaviours related to
frontal disinhibition. Further research investigating the neurophysiology,
psychophysiology and possible existence of a genetic vulnerability to these behavioural
addictions is warranted, given that the prevalence of a sub-clinical addiction to
computer games and the Internet is increasing among the student population.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Thomas, NJ
Keywords: Compulsive behavior, Compulsive gamblers, Internet addiction, Video game addiction, Addicts
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2007 the author

Additional Information:

Available for library use only and copying in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968, as amended. Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2007. Includes bibliographical references. Ch. 1. Introduction -- Ch. 2. Engagement in and addiction to behavioural activities -- Ch. 3. Engagement in and addiction to potentially addictive activities: gambling, video-arcade games, computer games and the Internet -- Ch. 4. Neurophysiology of substance adiction and behavioural addiction: evidence for a single underlying syndrome of addiction -- Ch. 5. Event-related potentials as an index of addiction and disinhibition -- Ch. 6. Rationale for future research -- Ch. 7. Study 1. Level of engagement and prevalence of addiction to gambling, video-arcade games, computer games and the Internet among school-age and university students -- Ch. 8. Continuum of engagement and addiction: configuration of groups -- Ch. 9. Study 2. Examination of engagement and addiction to gambling, video-arcade games, computer games and the Internet among university students as indexed by the P300 component -- Ch. 10. Study 3. Pre-attentive auditory processing (MMN) of university students according to their level of engagement and addiction to gambling, video-arcade games, computer games and the Internet -- Ch. 11. Study 4. Personality and psychopathology factors underlying addiction -- Ch. 12. General discussion and conclusion

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