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Monday, August 31, 1998 Published at 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK


Sci/Tech

Feeling depressed?

Researchers say net users are missing out on "real life"

Logging on to the Internet can make you sad, lonely and depressed, according to a two-year academic study.


Professor Robert Kraut: Net relationships are more shallow
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania found even an hour a week surfing the Net could increase depression by 1% and loneliness by 0.4%.

While the increases are small, the acadmics, led by Professor Robert Kraut, say they are significant.

"We were finding that as people used the Internet more, they were becoming more lonely, more depressed, experiencing more stress in their life, communicating with people in their family somewhat less and reporting having fewer friends that they kept up with," Prof Kraut told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said this happened even though those studied were primarily using the Internet for social reasons - e-mail in particular.

"Even though people are only using the Internet socially they are giving up something in order to do that. What they may be giving up is more authentic social relationships in their real lives," added Prof Kraut.


[ image: The study included 93 people]
The study included 93 people
He suggested that Net relationships may be shallower because interaction by e-mail is slower than a conversation, it is more effort to say more about yourself and the people Net users were talking to were "relative strangers".

The results seemed to surprise some of those who participated in the survey.

Andrea Rubinsky , 17, said she did not feel any worse for using the Internet, even though she had cut the time she logs on from up to 15 hours a week to just three.

"It just also might be I have more things to do now," she said.

She said she had not made any new friends in Internet chat rooms, but used e-mail to keep up with existing ones.

Her father, Peter, also felt his personal relationships had not suffered because of his use of the Internet, but his garden might have.

"The grass didn't get mowed sometimes and the car didn't get washed."

The people most likely to be depressed by the study could be some of its sponsors.

Much of the $1.5m the study cost came from computer and telecommunications companies, including telephone giant AT & T, Apple Computer, Hewlett Packard and Intel.

Surprise

The HomeNet study tracked 93 people in Pittsburgh selected from schools and community groups.

Participants were given a computer, telephone lines, and use of the Internet for free in exchange for filling out periodic questionnaires. The amount of time they spent online was recorded electronically.

The results surprised the researchers.

"The research team itself believed the hype about the Internet as well - that it is basically a positive experience in people's lives," said Prof Kraut.

The research will be published next week in the journal The American Psychologist.

Researchers suggest the Net is best used to "support pre-existing communities and strong relationships".

They now want to examine the link between Net use and depression and how it compares to watching television.



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