Scientists say people with a particular genetic variant could be more at risk of developing online obsessions
Internet addicts exhibiting the variant were more likely to be female , Gene already implicated in other forms of addiction .
Women could have a new excuse for whiling away hours updating their Facebook profiles, scrolling through Twitter, or browsing online shopping sites.
Scientists have uncovered new evidence of a genetic variant linked to internet addiction – and the link occurred most frequently in women.
The University of Bonn’s Dr. Christian Montag, who led the research, said it showed that internet addiction is ‘not a figment of our imagination’.
Dr. Montag and his team interviewed 843 people about their internet habits, eventually whittling the group down to 132 online addicts.
The addicts were then compared to a ‘healthy’ control group, and it emerged that the 132 subjects displaying problematic internet behaviour were more likely to be carriers of the genetic variation.
Those affected were most likely to be female.
Dr. Montag suggested that the popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter among women could be behind the trend, but added that further studies would be needed.
‘The sex-specific genetic finding may result from a specific subgroup of Internet dependency, such as the use of social networks or such,’ he said.
The scientists said the research could shed new light on why online obsessions affect some and not others.
‘It was shown that Internet addiction is not a figment of our imagination,’ said Dr. Montag, who is based at the Department for Differential and Biological Psychology at the University of Bonn.
‘Researchers and therapists are increasingly closing in on it.’
Behaviors that marked out addicts include the admission that all their thoughts revolve around the Internet during the day; and a belief that their well-being is severely impacted if they have to go without access to the Internet.
The same genetic variation found to occur frequently in online addicts has already been linked to other forms of addiction – including nicotine addiction – and to loneliness and depression.
‘What we already know about the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in the brain is that a mutation on the related gene promotes addictive behavior,’ said Dr. Montag.
‘Nicotine from tobacco fits – just like acetylcholine, which is produced by the body – like a key into this receptor.
‘Both these neurotransmitters play a significant role in activating the brain’s reward system.
‘It seems that this connection is not only essential for nicotine addiction, but also for Internet addiction.’
The team hope their research could lead to better therapies for internet addicts.