This study aimed to examine how loneliness associated with internet addiction using interpersonal problems as mediators. It became evident that interpersonal problem served as a mediator for loneliness and internet addiction. Motivation for internet use contributed to increased variances explained by internet addiction, denoting their significant effect on the relationship between loneliness and interpersonal problems, and internet addiction.
Socially inhibited problem was the strongest mediator among all, showing full mediation, denoting that the association between loneliness and internet addiction might be nonsignificant when the socially inhibited interpersonal problems was removed. This finding was endorsed by Horowitz and French in that lonely individuals consistently reported problems of inhibited sociability. The remaining interpersonal problems produced a mediation effect, but exhibited a partial effect, except for intrusive/needy, which had no mediation effect.
The study aimed to understand why different interpersonal problems, even on the opposite quadrant, had the same effect on internet addiction. As hypothesized, specific motivation for internet use related to some interpersonal problems and resulted in an effect on internet addiction. The motivation of being accepted and of negative intention were found to be the second mediator for all models, regardless of interpersonal problems. This is reasonable for any user to use the internet to be accepted. In a word, regardless of the type of interpersonal problems an individual has, desire to be accepted and to receive social support is common.[42–44] On the contrary, negative intention including defamatory remarks, bullying others was associated with all types of interpersonal problems because being an anonymous user provided an opportunity to do so.
Negative intention may not be that surprising when it occurs along a hostile axis of interpersonal problems such as the vindictive subscale, but what could be the explanation considering the friendly style such as overly accommodating? Recall that interpersonal problems do not constitute a cognitive style as even the friendly interpersonal style could express negative thoughts. Investigators have revealed that overly accommodating significantly correlated with fantasy proneness, irresponsibility and negative affect, which was endorsed in the negative intention factor found in the present study. In other words, participants with loneliness may be likely to become internet addicts when they had negative thoughts and negative intention (feelings that bring out the worst in them), because the internet could be the network where they can safely express their denigration, which is difficult to do so in real life.
Notably, SI was the only IIP subscale that related to various types of motivation either positive or negative aspect. A motivation for social connection such as chatting, using Facebook or Twitter, and searching the internet may not differentiate addicted individuals from normal users, and did not affect internet addiction score. However, SI became one of the important variables associated between loneliness and internet addiction. It may reflect that people who are socially inhibited tend to access the internet much more with a variety of motivations, particular in escapism using online gaming.
Another point is that IN was not a mediator in the first place but could become one when the motivation variables were added. This highlights the importance of unobserved variables like motivation to be accepted or to express negative feeling on internet addiction that may prevail over any particular type of interpersonal problem.
Interestingly, motivation for working online became both a mediator and a moderator in some types of IIP. Regarding mediation effect, it may be unsurprising that working served as an additional effect on the model but in the moderating model, working become a moderator only with submissive style of IIP, i.e., SI, NO, OA and SS, meaning that these IIP subscales differentially predicted internet addiction as a function of working online. To put in other words, at medium to high levels of working online, the magnitude of correlations (slope) between them was significantly greater than at lower level (sharper slope). This could provide us some insight that those with submissive character, when they feel lonely and keep a high level of working online, tend to become addicted to the internet. Another moderation effect was found in VI and negative intention, indicating that the higher the level of negative intention, the more the predicting of VI concerning internet addiction could be observed.
Overall, we have attempted to determine what makes each pair of IIP subscales and loneliness differ concerning internet addiction. They all involve and are also determined by the motivation of internet use. Despite the fact that motivation of the users sheds some light on the link between loneliness, interpersonal problem and internet addiction, more models remain untested, which might yield a better fit and understanding of clinical data, for example, moderation between motivation and loneliness concerning IIP and moderation between motivation and loneliness concerning IAT. Further investigation should be warranted.
Strengths and limitations
This may constitute the first analysis regarding a mediation model of loneliness and interpersonal problems concerning internet addiction. Moreover, including motivation types in the structural model was accomplished for the first time to explain the difference between the effects each interpersonal problem has on internet addiction score, for which the summary findings presented were derived from overall extensive analyses of 136 models. However, our study had some limitations. First, this study was confined to a medical student population and might not be generalized to the general population. A replication study in other populations is encouraged. Second, depression was excluded, which may be linked to loneliness (or interpersonal problems). This may have made it difficult to conclude that interpersonal problems were the only mediator for loneliness despite the fact that depression might have also contributed. Moreover, a separate analysis based on type of internet addiction may be useful to obtain more insights concerning the varied nature of addiction among users.