The damaging effects of the internet

The University of Hertfordshire is leading the world's first international research into how the internet affects mental health and wellbeing.

The collaborative project identifies and understands problems associated with internet use, such as gambling, pornography, gaming, and excessive social media use, in addition to looking at what causes these problems and how society can best deal with them.

In recent years, there has been growing concern over how internet use might affect public health, with the World Health Organisation recognising Problematic Use of the Internet (PUI) since 2014.

Expanding the EU-PUI network

Research on PUI has, up to now, been fragmented and mainly at a national level, making it difficult for researchers to understand the international picture or work with a big enough group of patients to develop meaningful comparisons. To address this, the EU’s COST programme (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) has awarded €520,000 funding over four years to an expanding EU-PUI network, currently including 123 researchers from 38 countries and chaired by Consultant Psychiatrist Professor Naomi Fineberg, from the University of Hertfordshire.

This network includes the best researchers in the field, and the network will drive the PUI research agenda for the foreseeable future.

Professor Naomi Fineberg, University of Hertfordshire,
EU-PUI Network Chair

The research project focuses on:

  • Defining the different forms of PUI
  • Developing age and culture appropriate assessment instruments to screen, measure and diagnose different forms of PUI
  • Characterising the impacts of different forms of PUI
  • Reducing obstacles to timely recognition and intervention
  • Clarifying the role of genetics and personality features in the development of different forms of PUI
  • Identifying biomarkers to improve early detection and intervention
  • Consideration of the impact of social factors in developing PUI
  • Generating and validating effective interventions

Identifying those at risk

Ultimately, the goal of the research is to be able to identify those most at risk from the internet before the problem takes hold, along with developing effective interventions that reduce its harms, both at an individual and public health level.

We need to remember that the internet is not a passive medium - we know that many programmes or platforms earn their money by keeping people involved and by encouraging continued participation; and they may need to be regulated – not just from a commercial viewpoint, but also from a public health perspective.

Professor Naomi Fineberg, University of Hertfordshire,
EU-PUI Network Chair