Loughborough University
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An exploratory study of computer dependency

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posted on 2012-12-14, 12:13 authored by Margaret A. Shotton
This research was initiated to investigate the syndrome of computer dependency, and to ascertain whether there was any foundation to the apocryphal stories which suggested that 'obsessive' dependency by some people upon computers and computing was detrimental to their psychological and social development. National publicity brought forth volunteers who considered themselves to be dependent upon computers. As a group they did not form a cross-section of the general population but consisted in the main of very well educated, adult males. (An additional study showed that there were distinct differences between the sexes in attitudes held towards computers to account for this lack of balance). As the computer dependent individuals were unrepresentative of the general population, control groups were established with whom comparisons could be made, matched with them on the criteria of sex, age and highest educational level. One control group was formed from computer owners who were not computer dependent and the other from people Who did not own a computer. Thus three groups were studied; a computer dependent group and two controls. The results established that the two computer-owning groups differed significantly from each other in their preferred computing activities, both quantitatively and qualitatively. As anticipated, the computer dependent individuals spent significantly more time computing than the others, but they were also found to use computers in a more exploratory and self-educational manner, rarely having a definite end-product in mind. All three groups were found to have enjoyed different types of hobbies throughout their lives. The computer dependent group had shown interests in technological and scientific artefacts before school age and rarely partook of either the social or physical activities of interest to the control groups. The dependent group had found in the computer the ultimate hobby; one which was constantly stimulating and exciting and which matched their psychological needs. Investigation of the social and psychological issues suggested that the group of computer dependent people had experienced different types of parenting from the control groups, leading them to become object- rather than people-centred at an early age. This bias had been perpetuated throughout life, leaving them shy and unable to form satisfactory relationships; they neither trusted humans nor needed them in many cases. Their lives had become dominated by task- and object-related activities, with the computer offering them a controllable form of interaction Which they had been unable to find elsewhere. Deleterious effects occurred within some marriages Where one spouse had become computer dependent, but only en very rare occasions did individuals express distress about their dependency. Tb the contrary, the positive benefits gained by their use of computers far outweighed any disadvantages. The research disproved the hypothesis that computer dependency was in general detrimental to the individuals' social and psychological development, and suggested that computer dependency was in fact therapeutic by providing an outlet for their high levels of curiosity and originality. Computing had brought them intellectual stimulation rarely found when interacting with the majority of humans and had provided a level of fulfilment to which many would aspire.



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© Margaret A. Shotton

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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