Learning Position and Preferred Internet Content as Factors of Problematic Internet Use in Students

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Abstract

The role of preferred content on the Internet and positions in educational activities for problematic Internet use or the Internet addiction among students have been hardly studied. The subject position in educational activity reflects the high motivation and independence of students in mastering educational material. A hypothesis is put forward about the protective role of the subject position as a factor of protection against the Internet addiction or problematic Internet use by students. The sample consisted of 186 school and university students aged 13 to 23 years (M=18,7), 92 male and 94 female. The following techniques were used in the study: “General scale of problematic Internet use-3” (A.A. Gerasimova, A.B. Kholmogorova, 2018), “Questionnaire of preferred Internet content”, the questionnaire “Subject position” (Yu.V. Zaretsky, V.K. Zaretsky, I.Y. Kulagina, 2014). The study revealed that a pronounced subject position in educational activities (β=-0,169; p=0,001) and a preference for educational content (β=-0,389; p<0,001) reduce the problematic Internet use. The preference for entertainment and informational content, as well as high frequency of communication and self-presentation on the Internet are associated with objective and negative positions in educational activities and increase the Internet addiction or problematic Internet use in students of schools and universities (R2=0,388, F=22,796). The conclusions of our study are preliminary, it is necessary to expand the sample and further validate research methods.

General Information

Keywords: mental health, educational activity, problematic Internet use, Internet addiction, preferred content on the Internet, position in educational activity, subject position in educational activity

Journal rubric: Clinical and Special Psychology

Article type: scientific article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17759/pse.2022270308

Received: 28.02.2022

Accepted:

For citation: Kholmogorova A.B., Kazarinova E.Y., Rakhmanina A.A. Learning Position and Preferred Internet Content as Factors of Problematic Internet Use in Students. Psikhologicheskaya nauka i obrazovanie = Psychological Science and Education, 2022. Vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 104–116. DOI: 10.17759/pse.2022270308.

Full text

Introduction

Educational activities and related relations with society occupy an important place in the social situation of the development of the younger generation. In the process of educational activity, professional self-determination occurs during the period of schooling, and then the formation of professional identity during the period of study at the university. A subject, that is, an active and conscious position in educational activities, contributes both to the conscious choice of a future profession and its successful development and is also an important condition for the independence of students. On the contrary, the object, purely performing, subordinate position, as well as a negative, detached position make it difficult to find oneself in a complex social space and do not contribute to the formation of professional identity. The object position is also dangerous due to increased dependence on the opinions of others and a low level of independence. In a number of works, the important role of position in educational activities for the mental health of students was also shown earlier [2; 3; 5].

The modern social situation of youth development is unthinkable without the Internet. Introduced into science by L. S. Vygotsky, the concept of the social situation of development includes a system of relations between the child and the social reality surrounding them, an integral part of which in the modern world is the Internet. Relations with it, the nature of its use and preferences for one or another matter or content cannot but influence the development of adolescents and young people, both in terms of the formation of their professional identity, independence and autonomy and in terms of mental health. Many studies prove that the so-called problematic use of the Internet or Internet addiction can lead to serious mental health problems [1; 7; 10; 12; 14–24].

The ‘problematic use of the Internet’ construct, which replaced the concept of Internet addiction, includes the following aspects: too much time on the Web, regular desire to go online, preference for online communication over real, cognitive preoccupation with what is happening on the Internet and its compulsive use, inability to control the time spent on the Internet [1]. Adolescents and young people are a high-risk group for problematic use of the Internet [10]. There are numerous studies of personal and cognitive risk factors for such addiction. At the same time, works devoted to the role of content choice are still rare. Thus, in a recent study by the authors of the article, conducted with the participation of adolescents and students, it was shown that excessive time spent communicating on the Web and the high importance of self-presentation (frequent use of the Internet to express oneself) in the online space contribute to the problematic use of the Internet [7].

An analysis of the literature shows that studies examining the role of such a factor, as a position in educational activities in the problematic use of the Internet, are practically absent, despite the fact, that study occupies the bulk of the time in adolescents and young adults. According to our hypothesis, the subject position in educational activity, in which the student has a clearly defined circle of their own interests, which they independently, actively and consciously implement, is a protective factor that protects against problematic use of the Internet. This position is associated with the development of professional identity and conscious choice, which helps a person to actively develop in their chosen field of activity [11]. On the contrary, an object position, associated with an increased orientation to the opinions and assessments of others, does not contribute to independence and the formation of one's own sphere of interests. According to our hypothesis, it will be associated with problematic Internet usage.

The concept of a subject position develops within the framework of a reflexive-activity approach that continues the traditions of cultural-historical psychology [2; 3; 4; 5; 6]. In the dissertation research, Yu. V. Zaretsky identified three types of positions in learning activity [6]: object position—the child's desire to follow the instructions of an adult and focus on their praise, as well as ignoring their own interests in learning activities; negative position—complete denial of the value of education; subject position—an active and conscious attitude to learning activities, which combines the pleasure of the process and the presence of meaning in the future. Also, a ‘Subject position questionnaire’ was developed, which allows for diagnosing the severity of different positions of students in relation to learning activities [4].

It is known that insufficiently high educational motivation among schoolchildren often leads to indifference to the results of their activities, gaps in knowledge and the need for external control [4]. While their peers, who occupy an active subject position, have a high motivation for learning and, accordingly, show independence and success in mastering the material [4; 5; 6]. Studies conducted among university and college students also showed that a pronounced subject position is associated with a high level of empathic abilities [11]: the ability to empathise, decentre and provide emotional support in difficult situations [8].

The purpose of the study was to study the relationship of position in educational activities and preferred types of content with problematic use of the Internet among older adolescents and university students.

As a hypothesis, it has been hypothesised that preferred Internet content is associated with the position in learning activities, and together they influence the problematic use of the Internet by adolescents and youth.

Research Procedure

Respondent data was collected online using a Google form based on informed consent and anonymity of participants. Those who wish could receive feedback. Before each questionnaire, the user was presented with an instruction that provided some information about the selected test. For example, the instructions for the ‘Questionnaire of preferred Internet content’ are as follows: ‘Below you will be presented with a series of statements regarding Internet use. Please rate how often you use the Internet for certain purposes. Based on the responses received, it is possible to determine the features of your use of the Internet and social networks.

Research Techniques and Results Processing

To study the specifics of Internet use, the General Scale of Problematic Internet Use-3 (GPIUS3) by S. Kaplan, modified by A. A. Gerasimova, A. B. Kholmogorova (2018) and the original author's ‘Questionnaire of preferred Internet content.’

GPIUS3 is based on the cognitive-behavioural model of problematic Internet use proposed by R. Davis [13] and includes 14 questions with a 7-point Likert scale of agreement, diagnosing the severity of each of the five factors of problematic Internet use: preference for online communication, mood regulation, cognitive preoccupation, compulsive use and negative consequences.

The original methodology ‘Questionnaire of preferred Internet content’ was developed by us to determine the frequency of Internet use by the respondent for various purposes. As a search in scientific databases showed, such studies have not been practically carried out so far. In one of the works, a survey took place in which adolescents identified three key types of activity on the Internet for them [10], however, in the original methodology used in this study, the participant is instructed to evaluate the frequency of use of each of the proposed types of content separately, which allows for a more differentiated picture of the respondent's preferences. The questionnaire includes 9 questions related to the frequency of using the Internet for studying and searching for cognitive information, as well as information about world events, achievements in medicine and technology and famous people, as well as for communication, entertainment, ‘killing time’, self-expression. To evaluate the respondents' answers, we used the Likert scale, which contains 5 categories: from ‘never’ to ‘always.’ The preferred types of content were divided into 4 domains according to the nature of the focus: domain 1—Self-presentation and communication (interpersonal focus). These included questions about how often you use the Internet to communicate and express yourself; domain 2—Entertainment and ‘killing time’ (non-purposeful activity); domain 3—Education and self-education (educational orientation). Includes questions about the frequency of using the Internet for studying and searching for cognitive information; domain 4—Information retrieval (content orientation). Includes questions about the frequency of using the Internet to search for information about events taking place in the world, about famous people and the achievements of medicine and technology.

To study the position in educational activity, the ‘Subject position questionnaire’ was used (Yu. V. Zaretsky, V. K. Zaretsky, I. Yu. Kulagina, 2014). It includes 12 questions that make it possible to judge the degree of expression of the subject, object and negative positions. The methodology was developed for schoolchildren and is currently in the process of validation on a student sample with minor changes in the wording to fit the context of university education. On the combined sample (N = 186), the values of the reliability coefficient were obtained α-Cronbach for all three scales: object position—0.72; subject position—0.8; negative position—0.67. Based on the data obtained, an article on the validation of the methodology is being prepared.

The obtained data were processed using the SPSS Statistics 23.0 for Windows statistical software package. Methods used: percentile method to divide the sample into three groups according to the level of problematic Internet use; Mann–Whitney U test for the study of differences between age groups; the Kruskal–Wallis test as a non-parametric test for investigating differences between several groups that differ in the level of problematic Internet use; correlation analysis (non-parametric Spearman test) to study the relationship between the studied parameters; regression analysis to study the influence of the subject position and indicators of preferred Internet content on the severity of problematic Internet use.

Sample

The study involved 186 people, including 92 boys and 94 girls (data were collected in May–June 2020). The age of the participants was from 13 to 23 years old, the average age was 18.7 years (SD = 2.56). All respondents are students of schools and universities (students of 1–6 courses of technical and humanitarian orientation) in Russia. In Figure 1, the distribution of respondents by age is presented. The ratio of boys and girls in adolescent and student samples was equalised.

 

Figure 1. Distribution of respondents by age

It should be noted that this study is pilot in nature, which means that the number of respondents is less than required to test the hypothesis for the entire population. Since the sample includes respondents of two age groups (schoolchildren and students), it should be noted that the studied phenomena may manifest themselves in different ways in these groups. However, when conducting analysis using the Mann–Whitney U test, no differences between the groups were found (all indicators at the p > 0.05 significance level), and therefore the results of data processing are presented for a single sample of schoolchildren and students. In further studies, it is planned to expand the sample and analyse the data in each age group.

Results

Using the percentile method, the sample was divided into groups with low, medium and high levels of problematic Internet use. Further, using the SPSS programme, a statistical analysis was carried out using the Kruskal–Wallis test, according to the results of which we can talk about the revealed significant statistical differences between the selected groups. Respondents with high levels of problematic Internet use demonstrated higher rates of the object (p = 0.013) and negative position (p = 0.015), on one hand, and domains ‘Self-presentation and communication’ (p < 0.001), ‘Entertainment and “killing time”’ (p < 0.001) and ‘Information retrieval’ (p < 0.001)—on the other hand. In the group with a high level of problematic Internet use, there are also lower indicators of the subject position (p < 0.001) and the domain ‘Education and self-education’ (p = 0.002) (see Table 1) in comparison with the other two more prosperous groups.

Table 1

Differences in indicators of preferred Internet content and position in learning activities among respondents with different levels of problematic Internet use (N = 186)

Level use

Scales

Low (N = 47)

Medium (N = 91)

High (N = 48)

Kruskal–Wallis test

Significance level of differences, p

M (SD)

M (SD)

M (SD)

Self-presentation and communication

0.73 (0.3)

0.8 (0.18)

0.89 (0.21)

16.369

0.000

Entertainment and ‘killing time’

0.94 (0.19)

1 (0.17)

1.1 (0.17)

21.040

0.000

Education and self-education

1.11 (0.12)

1.07 (0.19)

0.96 (0.21)

12.948

0.002

Information retrieval

0.53 (0.19)

0.78 (0.24)

0.76 (0.23)

34.158

0.000

Object position

2.43 (1.81)

3.02 (1.54)

3.35 (1.72)

8,750

0.013

Subject position

4.96 (1.99)

4.33 (1.98)

3.06 (1.56)

23.261

0.000

Negative position

2.79 (1.91)

3.25 (1.66)

3.71 (1.76)

8.344

0.015

Legend: M—average value; SD—standard deviation; p—the significance of differences.

In our previous study [7], we found relationships between domains that reflect the Internet content preferred by adolescents and young people and indicators of Internet addiction according to the K. Young Internet addiction test, which has long been one of the most widely used in research. Similar patterns were also found in this study, but with a different scale of problematic use of the Web (see Table 2).

Table 2

Correlations of problematic Internet use indicators with indicators of the Internet content use of various directions according to the Spearman criterion

Indicators

Direction of Internet content

Self-presentation and communication

Entertainment and ‘killing time’

Education and self-education

Information retrieval

Preference for online communication

0.093

0.239**

–0.194**

0.394**

Mood regulation

0.281**

0.265**

–0.112

0.234**

Cognitive preoccupation

0.274**

0.237**

–0.225**

0.126

Compulsive Internet use

0.271**

0.353**

–0.125

0.204**

Negative consequences

0.091

0.184*

–0.175*

0.142

Total score

0.314**

0.338**

–0.22**

0.322**

Notes: **—correlation is significant at p < 0.01; *—correlation is significant at p < 0.05.

 

As can be seen from Table 2, three domains—‘Self-presentation and communication’, ‘Entertainment and “killing time”’, as well as ‘Information retrieval’ have positive associations with indicators of problematic Internet use, while the ‘Education and self-education’ domain, on the contrary, negative.

A correlation analysis was also carried out between indicators of preferred Internet content, problematic use of the Internet and indicators of position in educational activities (see Table 3).

Table 3

Correlations between indicators of position in educational activities with indicators of preferred Internet content and problematic use of the Internet (N = 186)

Indicators

Object position

Subject position

Negative position

Self-presentation and communication

0.281**

–0.229**

0.236**

Entertainment and ‘killing time’

0.146*

–0.230**

0.000

Education and self-education

–0.07

0.228**

–0.102

Information retrieval

0.07

–0.104

–0.025

Problematic Internet use

0.164*

–0.371**

0.175*

Preference for online communication

0.097

–0.270**

0.142

Mood regulation

0.053

–0.261**

0.136

Cognitive preoccupation

0.073

–0.340**

0.124

Compulsive Internet use

0.158*

–0.322**

0.141

Negative consequences

0.132

–0.160*

–0.006

Notes: **—correlation is significant at p < 0.01; *—correlation is significant at p < 0.05.

As can be seen from Table 3, the object position has significant weak direct links with such indicators of preferred content and problematic use of the Internet as ‘Self-presentation and communication’, ‘Entertainment and “killing time”’, ‘Problematic Internet use’ and ‘Compulsive Internet use.’ The subject position, on the contrary, is negatively associated with almost all indicators of problematic Internet use, and all relationships are significant, the most pronounced relationships of moderate strength are typical for the overall score of the scale of problematic Internet use, as well as these two subscales as cognitive preoccupation and compulsive use. At the same time, the subject position, in contrast to the object position, is negatively associated with the use of the Internet for the purpose ‘Self-presentation and communication’ and ‘Entertainment and “killing time”’, but is positively associated with ‘Education and self-education.’ That is, students with a subject position are better able to regulate the time spent on the Web and are also less loaded with feelings about what is happening on the Internet, choosing it as a platform for self-education.

As for the negative position, it has a weak positive relationship with the use of the Internet for ‘Self-presentation and communication’, as well as with the general indicator of problematic use of the Internet (see Table 3).

To assess the most significant factors influencing the overall indicator of the Problematic Internet Use Scale, a regression analysis was carried out for the dependent variable problematic Internet use (see Table 4). The independent variables were indicators of position in learning activities and indicators of preferred Internet content. The object and negative positions are not presented in the table due to their low impact on the dependent variable under consideration: they were excluded during stepwise selection.

Table 4

Regression analysis for the dependent variable problematic Internet use (N = 186)

Index

Beta

T

P

Subject position

–0.169

–2.61

0.001

Information retrieval

0.243

3.7

0.000

Education and self-education

–0.389

–5.881

0.000

Self-presentation and communication

0.279

4.366

0.000

Entertainment and ‘killing time’

0.216

3.242

0.001

Legend: Beta is the regression coefficient; T—Student's T test; P—the significance of differences.

As can be seen from Table 4, only the subject position has a significant impact on the indicator of problematic Internet use, and the severity of the object or negative position does not affect this indicator. Moreover, this influence is protective—the higher the indicator of the subject position, the lower the severity of problematic use of the Internet. The same applies to the preference for educational content—its protective effect is even more significant. The main contributors to the rise in problematic Internet use are the content preference for ‘Entertainment and “killing time”’, ‘Self-presentation and communication’ and ‘Information retrieval.’ The model explains 38.8% of the variance in the dependent variable problematic Internet use (R2 = 0.388, F = 22.796).

Thus, it is shown that the active use of social networks for entertainment purposes, to search for heterogeneous information about people and events, as well as for communication and self-presentation, is most conducive to problematic Internet use. On the contrary, a high subject position in educational activities and the use of the Web for educational purposes help reduce problematic Internet use.

Discussion

The result obtained about the positive relationship of the subject position with the domain ‘Education and self-education’ can be correlated with the data of a domestic study, according to which students with a subject position show greater emotional stability than their peers, and also have a more developed personal and professional identity [11]. Among foreign works, there are also similar results, which indicate the importance of the factors of the educational environment, self-learning and joint activities of the student and teacher in the development of educational independence of students [9].

Based on the analysis of the results obtained during the study, we can conclude that the main hypothesis is confirmed: the preferred Internet content is associated with the position in educational activities, and together they influence the problematic use of the Internet by adolescents and youth.

A pronounced subject position allows students to effectively regulate the use of the Internet and social networks, paying more attention to educational content, rather than entertainment or related to communication on the Internet. Such a strategy of behaviour indicates a high level of independence and awareness of adolescents and students, which will help them in later life, including in such a significant period for personal development and well-being as the choice of a profession and its successful development.

General Results and Conclusions

1.   Students with high rates of problematic use of the Internet have higher indicators of the object (H = 8.750; p = 0.013) and negative (H = 8.344; p = 0.015) positions in learning activities and lower indicators of the subject position (H = 23.261; p = 0.000) compared to groups with medium and low rates of problematic Internet use. As factors in the emergence of problematic use of the Internet is the preference for entertainment and informational content, as well as a high frequency of communication on the Web, including for self-presentation. At the same time, the decrease in indicators of problematic Internet use is due to a pronounced subject position and the preference for educational and educational content.

2.   Subject, that is, an active and conscious position of learning students allows them to successfully regulate the time spent on the Internet in their educational activities, and to be less emotionally dependent on what is happening on the Web. The close relationship between the subject position and the preference for educational content (R = 0.228; p < 0.01) obtained in the study indicates the importance of such a position for professional self-determination, the development of professional self-identity and the independence of students.

3.   The data obtained naturally raises the question of ways to strengthen the subject position of students in modern education and the analysis of conditions that, on the contrary, encourage an object position that is closely related to the preference for content on the Internet, which increases the severity of problematic use of the Internet. Together with the scientific results obtained earlier and cited in the article, the subject position can be considered a protective factor in mental health, including reducing the severity of problematic Internet use by adolescents and students.

4.   It is also important to emphasise the pilot nature and associated limitations of the study. In the future, it is necessary to expand the sample, complete the procedures for validating methods and clarify the conclusions drawn, which are preliminary. Further research is needed in this area to deepen the understanding of the relationship of subjectivity, constructive use of the Internet, development of independence and professional self-determination of adolescents and youth in the modern information society.

 



Application

Preferred Internet Content Questionnaire

Instruction. Below you will be presented with a series of statements regarding the use of the Internet. Please rate how often you use the Internet for certain purposes. Based on the responses received, it is possible to determine the features of your use of the Internet and social networks.

 

 

Never

Rarely

Regularly

Often

Always

1. Do you often use the Internet to communicate?

 

 

 

 

 

2. How often do you use the Internet for study?

 

 

 

 

 

3. Do you use the Internet to search for non-study educational information?

 

 

 

 

 

4. Do you use the Internet for entertainment (games, watching movies or videos, listening to music, etc.)?

 

 

 

 

 

5. Do you browse your social media feed to “kill time” (for example, while waiting for something or when you don’t feel like doing business)?

 

 

 

 

 

6. Do you often use social media to express yourself, your opinions and/or your creativity?

 

 

 

 

 

7. Do you use the Internet to get information about events taking place in the world?

 

 

 

 

 

8. Do you use the Internet to get information about various advances in medicine and technology?

 

 

 

 

 

9. Do you use the Internet to get information about famous people?

 

 

 

 

 

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Information About the Authors

Alla B. Kholmogorova, Doctor of Psychology, Professor, Dean of the Faculty of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, Moscow State University of Psychology & Education, Leading Researcher, Moscow Research Institute of Psychiatry (A Branch of the National Medical Research Centre for Psychiatry and Narcology), Moscow, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5194-0199, e-mail: kholmogorova@yandex.ru

Ekaterina Y. Kazarinova, PhD Student of the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, Moscow State University of Psychology & Education, Moscow, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8821-1491, e-mail: kitty.41294@mail.ru

Anastasiia A. Rakhmanina, Medical Psychologist, Junior Researcher, N.V. Sklifosovsky Research Institute of Emergency Medicine, Moscow, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7870-402X, e-mail: rakhmanina.a@mail.ru

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