Dr Daria Kuss is a Chartered Psychologist and Senior Lecturer in Psychology and a member of the Psychology Division and International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University. She has earned her Master’s degrees in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience and Media Culture, and a Ph.D. in Psychology. She has published prolifically in peer-reviewed journals and books, and her publications include 30 peer-reviewed journal articles, numerous book chapters, two authored books, and over 30 international conference presentations. In 2015, Daria has been found to be among the Top 10 publishing academics at Nottingham Trent University, and has won the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health Best Paper Award 2015 for her research on online social networking. Her previous experience working with clients suffering from behavioural addictions and other mental health problems in Germany has allowed her to foster her interest and skills in psychotherapy and clinical psychology.
We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Daria a few questions and gather an insight into her research:
What first drew you to researching the relationship between psychology and the internet?
DK: I started off researching gaming. Initially, I wanted to understand what motivates gamers to spend so many hours gaming. I had never fully understood how people can be so involved, spending many hours every day using games online. It was about understanding their motivation, talking to gamers to really see their drive behind it. In one of my early studies, one player expressed it was to numb themselves and forget about their real life problems. That really fascinated me. I wanted to understand the psychology behind their motives. Though the gamers use it as an escape it can actually lead to future problems.
From there I began researching into different forms of internet use and ways that it can become excessive. I looked into differences in cultures in terms of internet and gaming use and how social networking has evolved over the years, and in more recent research I’ve been looking into mobile phone use. It’s quite interesting to see how some vulnerable people use mobile phones excessively, as technology is now used in so many ways. If you go out onto the street you will see many people engrossed in their phones that they don’t look up around them. I think that technology has changed society tremendously and the ways in which we relate to one another has changed, and it really interests me to see where this change is going to take us in the future.
Gaming addiction is a relatively new phenomenon, how does online gaming addiction differ from offline addictions?
DK: It’s a very good question, one that we as researchers have been asking ourselves. I think the major differences between them is when an individual is gaming excessively those gaming behaviours don’t directly impact on their neurological systems. What happens is that the impact is indirect, and it might be quite similar to substance-related addictions, however, it is not direct.
Research shows that people who are gaming excessively have activations in brain regions that are traditionally associated with substance-related addictions; there seems to be a crossover. Recent studies have shown that people who game excessively have similar problems as those who are experiencing substance-related addictions, such as alcohol or cannabis addiction. I think it is important to note that the American Psychiatric Association who publishes the diagnostic statistical manual now included behavioural addictions in the addiction classification, whereas previously when we talked about addiction we only referred to substance-related addictions.
I also recall the first time I submitted a paper on gaming addiction, a long time ago, to one of the behaviour addiction journals. I was told by the editor that gaming addiction was not a behavioural addiction because it was seen as a behaviour, it’s not a substance that people can be addicted to. This is paradoxical given it was a behavioural addiction journal. 10 years later, the research landscape has dramatically changed. We have a lot of research on gaming as well other behavioural addictions such as work addiction, sex addiction, shopping addiction, suggesting people have become aware of potential problems there.
Having knowledge of the links between addictive gaming, substance abuse and psychosocial behaviour, do you feel enough is being done to combat this problem by the Government?
DK: A lot of research has been conducted across Europe but when I compare the UK to Germany with regards to treatment, what I find is that things in the UK are moving very slowly when it comes to developing therapy approaches for those who are gaming excessively and also when it comes to research in those areas. I used to work in an outpatient clinic for gaming addiction in Germany, which was the first which specialised in that type of addiction in Europe, so I saw first-hand how things have progressed rapidly in Germany.
In the UK we are moving at a slower pace. We do however have a number of people working in this area such as psychotherapists. For example in London a colleague of mine is keen on making sure awareness is raised and those needing the help are being provided with it. So slowly but surely I think we are going in the right direction, but a lot of work needs to be done, particularly when diagnosing the problem and ensuring funding is available for relevant treatment.
A study recently carried out by yourself looked at excessive mobile phone use and its association with potentially harmful and/or disturbing behaviours, known as Problematic mobile phone use (PMPU). On the whole, it was argued that the evidence supporting PMPU as an addictive behaviour was scarce. Do you think as time and technology advance that this will become a known and established addiction with society?
DK: We should really refer to our everyday lives as this shows us our reliance on our mobile phones. I see it on a regular basis with my students, whilst lecturing Psychology classes I see that my students are constantly engaged with their phones and laptops. Regularly using mobile phones may not necessarily lead to addiction, but it can certainly lead to changes in the way we interact and communicate with each other. Also, it impacts the way in which young people’s minds develop, in particular with their social development. I think if we continue using technology to such an extent immense changes will occur especially in terms of human interaction. How we engage with our communities and environment will change. It’s going to be interesting to see the direction mobile phone use will take us.
As the internet and social media evolve so do the numerous channels to harm others such as trolling, phishing and social media, what are your thoughts on these numerous channels? And do you feel that it is another part of society?
DK: To a certain extent I would probably say yes. In the case of social media, what we now find is that people are engaging through the medium of technology rather than engaging face to face. This basically takes away some real life cues, such as facial expressions. This could be the likely cause of certain online behaviours, due to the ability to distance oneself online (more than what is possible offline). This distance formulates a technological boundary which means our communication is less personal. This is one of the reasons why we see more trolling and bullying online, people are able to act out and behave differently on the internet. This is very problematic and therefore I advocate going back to our real life community and real life relationships to counteract this current state.
Over the last 10 years technology has developed rapidly, what are your thoughts on the effects this may have on the relationships between generations?
DK: What you will find nowadays is that young parents have been raised with technology themselves, and now they are raising their children with it too. Essentially technology has become part of their lives. You will see children as young as 3 playing on their ipads and gadgets and really knowing how to use modern technology. This can potentially lead to rewiring of the brain. We have never had such developments in the past.
However, if we look at the older generations who were not raised with technology – there might be a technological divide between them and their children, in such a way that their children are technologically savvy, whereas the parents may struggle and learning to use technology is a slower and less natural process. But what we are also finding is that many middle-aged people are now starting to use social networking sites such as Facebook. So the age group of 50+ years have started exploring the use of social media more. The older generation is beginning to catch up with those earlier age groups who were exposed to technology from a young age.
Another interesting area of development are the so-called ‘silver surfers’ – individuals of an older age discovering the internet and technology for themselves. In certain aspects I believe this is has a beneficial effect on their lives, as they can connect (decrease isolation) and engage with their communities in a mediated way. It is very important to see both the advantages and disadvantages of technology use across generations. I am a strong advocator of technology use, however I’m aware that in certain cases of susceptible and vulnerable individuals excessive technology use may lead to problems.
Can you tell us more about your future area of research?
DK: I’m currently working on a number of research projects. One, in particular, is about mobile phone use and the notifications we receive on a daily basis on our phones, and how these notifications impact on our mood and possibly excessive use. This is a very interesting study we are currently conducting with the University of Kent and Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. I am also working on a couple of cross-cultural projects on internet use across Europe, which we are currently collecting data on. I am also planning another project on cyberstalking and interpersonal violence, to understand the potential concerns when we look at the new governmental policies and development in regards to coercive control. I am also collaborating with Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust to assess the benefits of using online forums for individuals affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. As you can see, I would like to know more about how the Internet and mediated technologies can facilitate both positive as well as potentially detrimental behaviours.
Bearing all this in mind I think it is extremely important to recognise how important and beneficial technology can be, so not only focusing on the negative aspects but really understanding and acknowledging the positive uses of technology.