Internet Dependence Questionnaire: Garbage In, Garbage Out

internet addiction

Scales to diagnose Internet Dependence and Internet Addiction prosper. Even when this diagnosis is doubted by scientists and bloggers alike these scales get used very frequently and their publications accepted in peer reviewed journals. It is possible that this diagnosis will be included in the new DSM V. Recent research evaluated the utility of the proposed diagnostic criteria for Internet dependence as measured by Young’s Diagnostic Questionnaire. As much as the diagnosis is debatable this questionnaire shows that the proposed diagnostic criteria do not adequately discriminate individuals scoring no Internet dependence from those currently classified as Internet dependent with this instrument. The most shocking statement in this publication was

Although there is no gold standard against which to evaluate the proposed criteria, an examination of their concurrent validity as measured
by the YDQ with other measures of Internet dependence and clinical interview would contribute to the literature in this area.

What a bout a decent diagnostic interview performed by a experienced clinician? You can only proof the value of such a diagnostic scale by comparing it to the golden standard. The golden standard is usually a diagnostic scale especially those used by experienced clinicians. In the lack of such a scale, an interview with an experienced clinician is still the golden standard.

How was this research done?
The degree to which the cutoff of 5 out of 8 criteria is appropriate to differentiate nondependent from dependent Internet use was evaluated by comparing the Internet usage and psychological dysfunction of individuals scoring 3 and 4 on the Young’s Diagnostic Questionnaire (YDQ) to those scoring 5 or more and those scoring less than 3. This was done with a sample comprised of 424 students (130 males, 293 females,1 unspecified) recruited from universities in Melbourne, Australia. University students were selected because individuals in this demographic have been identified as being at risk for developing Internet dependence. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 50 years. Besides th YDQ another 5 scales were used: Internet Usage Inventory, Depression Anxiety Stress Scale, UCLA Loneliness Scale, Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale, Revised COPE Scale.

The results showed that 4.0% of undergraduate university students were classified as dependent (scoring 5 or more on the YDQ), and a further 9.2% were classified as at risk (scoring3 or 4 on the YDQ). This is a relatively high proportion compared to other publications.

the hypothesis that individuals scoring 3 and 4 on the YDQ would spend less time on the Internet and have a shorter history of use, engage in a narrower range of activities, and display less severe psychological dysfunction than individuals scoring 5 or more was not supported.

The diagnostic criteria for Internet dependence as measured by the YDQ may not adequately discriminate at-risk users from dependent users in terms of their Internet use and psychological functioning. If such a scale doesn’t clearly define the presence or absence of a disorder is that due to the scale, the alleged disorder or the bad design of this study by leaving out a golden standard?

To my opinion the diagnosis doesn’t exist as defined by such a scale and the design of this study didn’t help those advocating this disorder. What do you think?

Related posts on this blog:
Digital Divide in Internet Addiction
Predicting Internet Addiction or Splitting Straws?
Blog Addicted or Internet Addicted?
10 Things you can learn from a Digital Detox Week
Nicki A. Dowling, Ph.D, Kelly L. Quirk, BAppSci (2008). Screening for Internet Dependence:
Do the Proposed Diagnostic Criteria Differentiate
Normal from Dependent Internet Use? CyberPsychology & Behavior, 1 DOI: