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Report: Internet can make you lonely, depressed

graphic August 30, 1998
Web posted at: 6:47 p.m. EDT (2247 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Internet users who spend even a few hours a week online at home experience higher levels of depression and loneliness than if they had used the computer network less frequently, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The result of the two-year study by Carnegie Mellon University on the social and psychological effects of Internet use at home surprised both researchers and sponsors, which included Intel Corp., Hewlett Packard, AT&T Research and Apple Computer.

"We were shocked by the findings, because they are counterintuitive to what we know about how socially the Internet is being used," Robert Kraut, a social psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon's Human Computer Interaction Institute, told the newspaper.

Interview with social psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University
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"We are not talking here about the extremes. These were normal adults and their families, and on average, for those who used the Internet most, things got worse," he said.

Even though participants in the study used inherently social features such as e-mail and chat rooms, they observed a decline in interaction with family members and a reduction in their circles of friends that directly corresponded to the amount of time they spent online, the Times reported.

The new study, title "HomeNet," suggests that the interactive medium may be no more socially healthy than older forms of mass media, and questions the nature of "virtual" communication and the disembodied relationship that are often formed in the vacuum of cyberspace, according to the newspaper.

"Our hypothesis is there are more cases where you're building shallow relationships, leading to an overall decline in feeling of connection to other people," Kraut was quoted as saying.

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