Personality traits may influence Internet usage

Students with low self-esteem and high levels of shyness are more likely to use the Internet excessively, according to a study conducted by Professor Brad Scharlott of the Communications Department.

During his sabbatical last school year, Scharlott distributed a 74-question survey to 300 students enrolled in Speech 101. The survey contained sections designed to measure specific psychological characteristics, namely: shyness, self-esteem, Internet dependency and dissociation.

Dissociation, in academic literature, refers to a mental state where the individual becomes overly engrossed in an activity, resulting in less awareness of their surroundings and possibly his or her own bodily functions.

The study primarily focuses on how these characteristics lead to pathological and excessive Internet use. For example, shy students with low self-esteem were seemingly drawn to the Internet because it enabled them to dissociate, said Scharlott

“[The Internet] allows them to get at a state where they are happier or feel better,” he said. “Some of them may be looking at pornography, some of them may be in chat rooms where they may be talking about sexy things with other people, he said.

Viewing pornography and engaging in chat room discussions were very common tendencies of introverted students, Scharlott said. They were also more likely than others to indicate signs of intense dissociation.

“They get so engrossed in what they’re doing they lose track of time, they lose track of their bodily sensations,” Scharlott said. “If you ask them afterwards, they’ll say they thought they were floating out of their body or having an out of body experience. According to his research, one out of every six men who measured exceptionally high in shyness and low in self-esteem indicated that they’ve experienced intense dissociation.

Dissociating or not, the habit of staying online for long periods has its own damaging effects, said Scharlott. It could result in lower GPAs if the students aren’t getting enough sleep and could also prevent them from making friends in inner-personal situations because they’re constantly online, he said.

Scharlott also said some people spend too much time playing video games like “Dungeons ‘ Dragons” (D’D) is one of many games that several people can play simultaneously online in what are called MUD’s, multi-user dimensions. Both entertainment platforms Playstation II and Xbox feature online gaming like D’D. Gamecube’s first Internet based game, “Phantasy Star Online,” is due out in December.

“People have played for days at a time with no sleep, where they’re in this fantasy role-playing game,” Scharlott said. “And they meet others online and so on and so forth.”

Non-traditional students are just as likely to have the same issues as regular students, said Scharlott. The only demographic factor that made any significant impact was sex: Men are more prone than women, he said.

“Many men indicated that they go to sites with sexy pictures,” he said. “The men who were high in shyness and low in self-esteem would do that more than the others. But very few women indicated it.”

Scharlott said his research could help people like college counselors and psychotherapists by giving them

insight into why some people become excessively involved with the Internet.

“If someone goes to a therapist or a college counselor and reveals that they’ve been up three nights in a row with no sleep because they have been playing Dungeons ‘ Dragons online, what might that suggest about the individual,” Scharlott said. “[It] could suggest that the person has self-esteem issues, shyness issues and that in itself then might point the way towards therapies that could be beneficial.”