New electronic media and addictive behaviourfeelart@123RF

New electronic media and addictive behaviour


Subject and objective of the study

In recent years, the time people spend on electronic media has increased considerably. At the same time, the users of electronic media are getting younger and younger. Children growing up today are getting into contact with electronic media in virtually all areas of their lives, both regarding their families and social environment and in educational institutions. At the same time, the social and economic interest in the phenomenon of »new electronic media and addictive behaviour« has increased significantly. However, there is no clear answer so far to the question as to what media addiction actually is. The understanding of what constitutes »normal« media use – in view of the advanced mediatization of society – considerably differs among generations and leads to intensive debates and conflicts e. g. in families, but also in schools.

The project focused on the following central questions: How can media addiction – in the context of electronic media – be differentiated and classified with regard to the types of use, characteristics and consequences involved? Which external or behavioural risks and stresses can be reduced with regard to a specific prevention of and recovery from media addiction? Which personal or social collective resources can be strengthened with regard to a specific prevention of or recovery from media addiction? Which political challenges and opportunities result from the findings?

The study’s objective was to analyze the scientific findings regarding the degree and the consequences of addictive media use, to deal with different scientific and socio-political concerns, interests and value orientations of the stakeholders involved and to describe political options for action.


In recent years, the number of publications regarding the phenomenon of »new electronic media and addictive behaviour« has increased significantly. Both in scientific publications and in social discourse, the term of media addiction is used as a general term for a variety of definitions, meanings and contents including medical and psychological concepts of disease. Accordingly, scientific findings depict a rather inconsistent state of knowledge. Various definitions and measuring methods are used which sometimes are not explained in a very transparent manner. Hence, the estimated prevalence rates of respective samples are quite variable. On the one hand, scientific studies point to the fact that Internet addiction is a more differentiated term than media addiction –and therefore should be focused on. On the other hand, a differentiation should be made between various forms of specific Internet addiction, e. g. addiction to online gaming, to social networking, to online shopping, to online sex or to online gambling.

The Internet’s potential for attraction and bonding is explained referring to the so-called »triple A engine«, i. e. by three key properties of Internet use: accessibility, affordability and anonymity. Also, the so-called »persistence of virtual worlds« is assumed to have a strong bonding potential which may facilitate the development of addiction, since a strong and permanent presence is expected from the users and a high level of immersion is generated. Consequently, the perception of oneself in the real world is reduced and the identification with a virtual character is increased at the same time.

The scientific state of knowledge in the field of »new electronic media and addictive behaviour« indicates a substantial and diversified need for research. Generally, the studies available are exploratory and refer to a specific point in time and are not oriented towards long-term analysis of the development of addictive behaviour. In particular, studies evaluating therapies and intervention approaches with regard to media addiction as well as concerted instruments for evaluation and diagnosis are missing.

Furthermore, it seems appropriate to initiate a discourse on developing a socially and scientifically grounded basis of values and to determine the thresholds between normal and addictive behaviour. This is important, because intensive media use is increasingly becoming a part of normal behaviour and is even expected e. g. for professional reasons.

Due to the significance of the issue, the Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment (ABFTA) intends to present and discuss the project results within the framework of a public event in the German Bundestag on June 9, 2016.


The results of the study were presented and discussed with members of the German Bundestag, experts and the interested public at the public expert discussion on 9 June 2016 in the Bundestag.


In the Bundestag