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Front Hum Neurosci. 2014 May 27;8:375. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00375. eCollection 2014.

Prefrontal control and internet addiction: a theoretical model and review of neuropsychological and neuroimaging findings.

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Department of General Psychology: Cognition, University of Duisburg-Essen , Duisburg , Germany ; Erwin L. Hahn Institute for Magnetic Resonance Imaging , Essen , Germany.
Center for Internet Addiction, Russell J. Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication, St. Bonaventure University , Olean, NY , USA.
Department of General Psychology: Cognition, University of Duisburg-Essen , Duisburg , Germany.


Most people use the Internet as a functional tool to perform their personal goals in everyday-life such as making airline or hotel reservations. However, some individuals suffer from a loss of control over their Internet use resulting in personal distress, symptoms of psychological dependence, and diverse negative consequences. This phenomenon is often referred to as Internet addiction. Only Internet Gaming Disorder has been included in the appendix of the DSM-5, but it has already been argued that Internet addiction could also comprise problematic use of other applications with cybersex, online relations, shopping, and information search being Internet facets at risk for developing an addictive behavior. Neuropsychological investigations have pointed out that certain prefrontal functions in particular executive control functions are related to symptoms of Internet addiction, which is in line with recent theoretical models on the development and maintenance of the addictive use of the Internet. Control processes are particularly reduced when individuals with Internet addiction are confronted with Internet-related cues representing their first choice use. For example, processing Internet-related cues interferes with working memory performance and decision making. Consistent with this, results from functional neuroimaging and other neuropsychological studies demonstrate that cue-reactivity, craving, and decision making are important concepts for understanding Internet addiction. The findings on reductions in executive control are consistent with other behavioral addictions, such as pathological gambling. They also emphasize the classification of the phenomenon as an addiction, because there are also several similarities with findings in substance dependency. The neuropsychological and neuroimaging results have important clinical impact, as one therapy goal should enhance control over the Internet use by modifying specific cognitions and Internet use expectancies.


Internet addiction; craving; cue-reactivity; executive functions; neuroimaging

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