Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have linked depressive symptoms in college students to their internet usage. It’s a small study, only 216 participants over 1 month, but the correlation quantifies what other researches have hypothesized. This is the first of its kind that overlaid subjects actual internet usage and diagnostic testing. Participants were college students on a closed network. So once they agreed to participate the researchers gained access to their real time usage via the schools network.
In short, the more time subjects spent checking social media sites like Facebook, chatting online, and shopping– especially late at night, the more depressive symptoms were measured.
In this paper, we report our findings on a month long experiment conducted at Missouri University of Science and Technology on associating depressive symptoms among college students with their Internet usage using real Internet data collected in an unobtrusive and privacy preserving manner over the campus network. In our study, 216 undergraduates were surveyed for depressive symptoms using the CES-D scale. We then collected their on-campus Internet usage characterized via Cisco NetFlow data. Subsequent analysis revealed that several Internet usage features like average packets per flow, peer-to-peer (octets, packets and duration), chat octets, mail (packets and duration), ftp duration, and remote file octets exhibit a statistically significant correlation with depressive symptoms. Additionally, Mann-Whitney U-tests revealed that average packets per flow, remote file octets, chat (octets, packets and duration) and flow duration entropy have a statistically significant difference in the mean values across groups with and without depressive symptoms.
This fits into the advice I share in my seminar, (and forthcoming book co-authored with Marko) A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media, that parents need to focus less on WHAT their kids are looking at and more on WHERE and WHEN they are using the internet.