Wonder why you are feeling stressed, lonely and depressed? You could be spending too much time surfing the Internet, according to a US academic study.
The research, carried out at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, maintains that heavy Internet usage leaves less time for the deeper relationships of friends and family, leaving Net users feeling isolated.
"People are substituting weaker social ties for stronger ones," explained Robert Kraut, the social psychology professor who headed up the study.
"They're substituting conversations on narrower topics with strangers for conversations with people who are connected to their life."
Even entering into interactive activities such as chat rooms and exchanging email has a detrimental effect on people?s social lives, maintains Kraut.
These findings contradicted the researchers? belief that the Internet would foster social contact in interactive areas.
Socialising on the Internet was in fact ?like spending all your life at a cocktail party", said Kraut.
Kraut and his team tracked 93 Pittsburgh area families for two years. They were given computer, phone lines and use of the Internet for free, in return for agreeing to fill out questionnaires for the university.
Kraut stressed that these were 'normal' adults and their famillies and that, surprisingly, the more they used the Internet the worse their outlook on life became.
By the end, he claims his team could predict changes to an individual?s emotional state simply by checking how many hours they had spent online. The reverse, however, is not true. Depression and loneliness do not predict how long someone will spend online.
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Markle Foundation and 13 computer, software and communications companies, including AT&T Research, Bell Atlantic, Apple Computer, Hewlett Packard and Intel.
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