Introduction: Excessive Internet use (EIU), also described as Internet addiction or pathological Internet use, has already become a serious social problem around the world. Some researchers consider EIU as a kind of behavioral addiction. However, there are few experimental studies on the cognitive functions of excessive Internet users (EIUers) and limited data are available to compare EIU with other addictive behaviors, such as drug abuse and pathological gambling.
Methods: In this study, we examined EIUers' functions of decision-making and prepotent response inhibition. Two groups of participants, EIUers and controls, were compared on these two functions by using a Gambling Task and a Go/no-go Task, respectively.
Results: Compared with controls, EIUers selected significantly less net decks in the Gambling Task (P =.007). Furthermore, the EIUers made progress in selecting strategy, but more slowly than did the control group (EIUers, chunk 3 > chunk 1, P<.001; controls, chunk 2 > chunk P<.001; controls, chunk 2 > chunk 1, P<.001). Interestingly, EIUers' accuracy during the no-go condition was significantly higher than that of controls (P=.018).
Conclusion: These results showed some similarities and dissimilarities between EIU and other addictive behaviors such as drug abuse and pathological gambling. The findings from the Gambling Task indicated that EIUers have deficits in decision-making function, which are characterized by a strategy learning lag rather than an inability to learn from task contingencies. EIUers' better performance in the Go/no-go Task suggested some dissociation between mechanisms of decision-making and those of prepotent response inhibition. However, EIUers could hardly suppress their excessive online behaviors in real life. Their ability of inhibition still needs to be further studied with more specific assessments.