Individuals who spend a lot of time surfing the net are more likely to show symptoms of depression, a new study has found.
The first large-scale study of its kind in the West by University of Leeds psychologists will be published in the journal Psychopathology.
In the research, boffins found striking evidence that some users have developed a compulsive internet habit, whereby they replace real-life social interaction with online chat rooms and social networking sites.
Lead author Dr Catriona Morrison, from the University of Leeds, said: "The internet now plays a huge part in modern life, but its benefits are accompanied by a darker side. While many of us use the internet to pay bills, shop and send emails, there is a small subset of the population who find it hard to control how much time they spend online, to the point where it interferes with their daily activities."
"Our research indicates that excessive internet use is associated with depression, but what we don't know is which comes first - are depressed people drawn to the internet or does the internet cause depression?"
"What is clear, is that for a small subset of people, excessive use of the internet could be a warning signal for depressive tendencies."
For the study, internet use and depression levels of 1,319 people aged 16-51 were evaluated.