When to survey? Influences of a 24-hour Internet abstinence on Self-evaluations of Internet overuse assessed using Internet Addiction Test (IAT)

As Internet use becomes increasingly common and pervasive in our daily life, there is growing concern about Internet overuse and how to assess its severity via self-report surveys. However, being constantly connected without prolonged breaks may lead to a prejudiced self-perception on Internet overuse as an accurate assessment often relies on contrasts between lives with and without the Internet. The present study investigates how a 24-hr Internet abstinence influences self-reported Internet overuse assessed using Internet Addiction Test (IAT). Fifty-seven students were recruited from a US university to complete two IAT surveys: a pre-weekend IAT before the Internet abstinence on Saturday and a post-weekend IAT after the weekend. Results showed 93% of the participants reported different IAT scores before and after the abstinence, with changes in both directions and a range of absolute differences from 0 to 20 points. In spite of the similar averages, the distribution of the pre-weekend IAT scores was more dispersed and positively skewed than the post-weekend scores. Further analyses showed people scoring at the higher end in the preweekend IAT dropped more points and reported more questions with negative changes in the post-weekend IAT, suggesting overestimation of Internet overuse before the abstinence.

Furthermore, items in IAT reacted differently to the abstinence; responses to questions on time management issues and withdrawal-like symptoms related to Internet overuse were more likely to be influenced. The study suggests that self-evaluation on Internet overuse are influenced by recent experience with prolonged offline life, and that future studies should consider administration of the IAT survey after an extended period of Internet abstinence as it ensures a more realistic and accurate self-evaluation.

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