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The Genetic and Environmental Contributions to Internet Use and Associations With Psychopathology: A Twin Study

  • Elizabeth C. Long (a1), Brad Verhulst (a1), Michael C. Neale (a1), Penelope A. Lind (a2), Ian B. Hickie (a3), Nicholas G. Martin (a4) and Nathan A. Gillespie (a1) (a2) (a3) (a4)...


Excessive internet use has been linked to psychopathology. Therefore, understanding the genetic and environmental risks underpinning internet use and their relation to psychopathology is important. This study aims to explore the genetic and environmental etiology of internet use measures and their associations with internalizing disorders and substance use disorders. The sample included 2,059 monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) young adult twins from the Brisbane Longitudinal Twin Study (BLTS). Younger participants reported more frequent internet use, while women were more likely to use the internet for interpersonal communication. Familial aggregation in ‘frequency of internet use’ was entirely explained by additive genetic factors accounting for 41% of the variance. Familial aggregation in ‘frequency of use after 11 pm’, ‘using the internet to contact peers’, and ‘using the internet primarily to access social networking sites’ was attributable to varying combinations of additive genetic and shared environmental factors. In terms of psychopathology, there were no significant associations between internet use measures and major depression (MD), but there were positive significant associations between ‘frequency of internet use’ and ‘frequency of use after 11 pm’ with social phobia (SP). ‘Using the internet to contact peers’ was positively associated with alcohol abuse, whereas ‘using the internet to contact peers’ and ‘using the internet primarily to access social networking sites’ were negatively associated with cannabis use disorders and nicotine symptoms. Individual differences in internet use can be attributable to varying degrees of genetic and environmental risks. Despite some significant associations of small effect, variation in internet use appears mostly unrelated to psychopathology.

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Corresponding author

address for correspondence: Elizabeth C. Long, Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University, P.O. Box 980126, Richmond, VA 23219, USA. E-mail:


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