Internet flow: the drug of procrastination

Thatcher, A., Wretschko, G., & Fridjhon, P. (2008). Online flow experiences, problematic Internet use and Internet procrastination. Computers in Human Behavior 24. pp. 2236-2254.

This article explores the relationships among three separate behaviors:

  1. problematic Internet use (PIU): viewed through Bandura’s theory of self-regulation of excessive behaviors “that may periodically arise and that may, over time , be self-remedied”; this remedy depends on a person’s belief in his ability to stop, and the absence of this belief causes the person to seek an escape from reality.
  2. Internet procrastination: delaying the start or completion of a task; procrastination is caused by difficult or boring tasks, by anxiety from task evaluation, or by tasks with a lack of control over completion.
  3. Flow on the Internet: a state of pleasure that occurs when skills closely match challenges.

Rather than stretching the connections, the authors confine their research to three hypotheses:

  1. that PIU and Internet procrastination are strongly correlated
  2. that PIU and flow are weakly uncorrelated (based on the finding that addictive behavior is not fun and thus does not produce a flow state)
  3. that immersive Internet activities will have higher levels of PIU and flow

The results are expected but provide additional insight into the connections:

  1. PIU and Internet procrastination are strongly correlated, although that relationship is unaffected by relationships with flow
  2. surprisingly, PIU and flow are weakly correlated (although this could be because they share many of the same qualities); procrastination may be a connector between the two
  3. immersive Internet activities are the best predictors of PIU, flow, and procrastination while email and general browsing are not predictors. The best flow predictor was chat, although the “immersive” classification of activities such as blogging (a reflective and often solitary endeavor) seems questionable.

Procrastination has the greatest impact among the variables; the next greatest was the amount of time spent online per session. However, before generalizing the results, the authors caution that the study:

  • was conducted over the Internet and advertised from a South African website
  • was based on self-reported survey results which may be biased toward Internet users

At the same time, the study clearly demonstrates a relationship among the activities. The authors suggest future research directions–mapping flow, skill and challenge to specific activities, and distinguishing PIU from other addictive behaviors such as workaholism–which may shed additional light.

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