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Digital Communication Effects on Loneliness and Life Satisfaction  

Philipp K. Masur

The question of whether and how digital media use and digital communication affect people’s and particularly adolescents’ well-being has been investigated for several decades. Many studies have analyzed how different forms of digital communication influence loneliness and life satisfaction, two comparatively stable cognitive indicators of subjective well-being. Despite this large body of empirical work, the findings remain ambivalent, with studies resulting in positive, negative, or nonsignificant effects. Several meta-analyses suggest that the overall effect of digital communication on life satisfaction is probably too small to suggest a detrimental effect. The net effect of digital communication on loneliness, by contrast, is positive, but likewise small. Yet the studies on which these meta-analyses are based suffer from several limitations. They often adopt a limited perspective on the phenomenon of interest as a disproportionate amount of work focuses on interpersonal differences instead of intra-individual, contextual, and situational effects, as well as their interactions. Furthermore, studies are often based on cross-sectional data, use unvalidated and imprecise measurements, and differ greatly in how they conceptualize digital communication. The diversity in studied applications and forms of digital communication also suggests that effects are most likely bidirectional. Passive digital communication (e.g., browsing and lurking) is more likely to result in negative effects on well-being. Active and purposeful digital communication (e.g., posting, liking, conversating), by contrast, is more likely to result in positive effects. Future research should therefore investigate how the various levels of digital communication (including differences in devices, applications, features, interactions, and messages) interact in shaping individuals’ well-being. Instead of expecting long-term effects on comparatively stable cognitive indicators such as life satisfaction, scholars should rather study and identify the spatial and temporal boundaries of digital communication effects on the more fluctuating affective components of well-being.


Games Addiction: A Comprehensive Overview  

Felix Reer and Thorsten Quandt

The study of addictive media use has a rather long tradition in media effects research and constitutes an interdisciplinary field that brings together scholars from communication science, psychology, psychiatry, and medicine. While older works focused on radio, film, or television addiction, newer studies have often examined the excessive use of interactive digital media and its consequences. Since the introduction of affordable home computer systems in the 1980s and 1990s, especially the pathological use of digital games (games addiction) has been discussed and investigated intensively. However, early research on the topic suffered from considerable methodological limitations, which made it difficult to assess the spread of the problem objectively. These limitations notwithstanding, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) decided to include the addictive use of digital games (Internet gaming disorder) as a “condition for further study” in its diagnostical manual, the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition), in 2013. A few years later, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially acknowledged addictive game use as a diagnosable mental condition (gaming disorder) by listing it in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). Some scholars viewed the decisions of the APA and the WHO with skepticism, arguing that healthy players may be stigmatized, while others greeted them as important prerequisites to facilitate appropriate therapies. Despite the question of whether the inclusion of disordered game use in the manuals of the APA and the WHO has greater advantages than disadvantages, it definitely triggered a research boom. New scales testing the APA and the WHO criteria were developed and applied in international studies. Representative studies were conducted that indicated that at least a small percentage of players seemed to show playing patterns that indeed could be considered problematic. Further, the correlates of gaming disorder have been examined extensively, showing that the addictive use of digital games is associated with particular demographics, motivations, and personality aspects as well as with other diverse impairments, such as physical and psychological health issues and problems in the social and working lives of affected players. However, the debate about the accuracy of the definitions and diagnostic criteria postulated by the APA and the WHO has not ended, and more high-quality research is needed to further improve the understanding of the causes, consequences, and specifics of gaming disorder. In addition, new aspects and innovations, such as micropayments, loot boxes, and highly immersive technologies such as virtual reality or augmented reality systems, may expose gamers to new risks that future debates and research need to consider.