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Technology Addiction Team

Understanding the connection between technology, addictions, and mental health

The Technology Addiction Team is working towards understanding the role of technology in addictive behaviours and mental health. We aim to conduct world-first research and work with stakeholders to increase awareness of risks and minimise harms.

The Technology Addiction Team works across disciplines and engages with stakeholders to contribute to a greater conceptual understanding of how and why people make decisions about technology use that impact mental health and may lead to behavioural addictions (e.g., online gambling and gaming). Given the dynamic nature of emerging technologies many mental health impacts are not well understood. Our team has expertise from a range of disciplines to consider the wide implications of technology on addictive behaviours, including understanding risky decision-making, excessive and problematic Internet use, legal and criminal issues, public health policies, and psychological treatments and prevention methods. We believe a collaborative approach is needed to address the role of technology in addictive behaviours. We aim to increase awareness of risks and encourage all stakeholders to intervene, prevent, and minimise harms.

Our research objectives

Our team’s research objectives are:

  1. To understand the influence of technology in behavioural addictions and harmful impacts for individuals and the community, particularly pertaining to mental health, and economic outcomes;
  2. To apply this understanding to guide policy and strategies that minimise harmful behaviours and promote healthy decision-making; and
  3. To work collaboratively to increase awareness of and acceptance of responsibility among stakeholders to take actions to intervene, prevent, and minimise harms.

Our team, led by Associate Professor Sally GainsburyProfessor Alex BlaszczynskiProfessor Vladan StarcevicProfessor Agnieszka TymulaAssociate Professor Nicola NewtonAssociate Professor Garner Clancey and Dr Sascha Callaghan, represents a true multidisciplinary collaborative effort to lead this research with representation from Psychology, Medicine, Economics, Public Health, and Law. Dr. Nicola Black has joined the team as a Research Fellow to guide the ongoing research and collaborative efforts. We are always looking for opportunities to collaborate with other researchers and potential government and industry partners to work toward our common goal. Please get in touch if you’re interested in working with us.

What's the link between technology and addictions?

Gambling and gaming disorder have been officially recognized as behavioural addictions. However, these, and other potential behavioural addictions are so new that there are no broadly accepted conceptual models or understanding of how problems are developed and maintained. As with so many activities, technology now plays a dominant role in our daily lives, including entertainment and social pursuits. Technological products are increasingly immersive and persuasive and enable a high level of accessibility and interaction with daily life through personalized notifications. Engagement with technology, particularly at excessive levels, can lead to broad-ranging harms with significant physical, mental, social, and economic costs for individuals and communities. 

Technology is changing the nature of addictive behaviours; online activities have unique risks including losing track of time and money, disrupted sleep and eating and interaction with poor mental health. Rates of problems are higher among those who gamble online and online gaming is an increasingly concerning problem. Technology is impacting social interactions and aggression, cyber-bullying, cyberchondria, sexual behaviours, impulsive behaviours, and crime. The relationship between technology and addictions has many implications including for neuropsychological and cognitive impairments, sleep disruptions, mental health, financial wellbeing, and youth development.

Risky behaviours associated with emerging technologies are increasing across the population, with particular concerns regarding youth, and have been associated with negative mental health outcomes. We therefore place special focus on youth and young adults and lifespan differences in behaviour using emerging technologies. 

Our collaborative approach

Our multi-disciplinary collaboration draws together perspectives from clinical psychology, public health, ethics, economics, social sciences (e.g., media and technology), law, neuroscience, psychiatry and beyond for a comprehensive understanding at both the conceptual and applied levels of the impact of technologies on addictions. On the conceptual level, we aim to understanding how dynamic technological changes are impacting addictions and mental health including identifying risk factors, environmental and social determinants, associated harms, and outcomes. We will consider the specific design mechanics and structural characteristics of technologies and how technology may encourage risky behaviours and decision-making.

We will apply this understanding to develop evidence-based frameworks that promote better decision-making and minimize harms. We will provide harm-minimising insights for prevention policy, inform guidelines for treatment interventions, and drive discourse in the public arena as technologies change over time.

We seek to increase awareness and responsibility among stakeholder groups including industry and governments of the risks to individuals and actions needed to minimize harms. We aim to be a leading voice to share our evidence-based expertise to advocate for and guide the implementation and evaluation of policies and practices for technologies that may impact the development and maintenance of addictions.

This group has extensive international collaborative relationships and we look forward to engaging with new colleagues including supporting visiting internationally fellows from various career levels and new and visiting PhD students.

Current research

  • Development of a framework for stakeholders to reduce the risks associated with Internet gambling (Gainsbury, Black, Blaszczynski, Callaghan, Clancey, Starcevic, Tymula)
  • Development and real-world trials of “intelligent” messages tailored for individuals to encourage appropriate behavioural change, e.g., adoption of consumer protection tools, gambling at a sustainable level (Heirene & Gainsbury – funded by Responsible Wagering Australia)
  • Understanding the impact of digital payment mechanisms on expenditure and addictive behaviours (e.g., gambling and gaming) (Swanton, Gainsbury, Garbarino, Collard; Kim, Gainsbury, King)
  • Development and testing of expenditure statements to ‘nudge’ behaviour to sustainable levels (Keen & Gainsbury)
  • Understanding the impact of the involvement of gaming mechanics (e.g., skill) within electronic gaming machines (i.e., pokies, slots) (Gainsbury & Philander – funded by Wymac Gaming Solutions)
  • Identification of vulnerable groups who increase their online gambling when access to land-based gambling is blocked (Gainsbury & Blaszczynski)
  • Development of a website to enable self-exclusion from land-based gambling venues (Pickering, Blaszczynski, Gainsbury – funded by NSW Office of Responsible Gambling)
  • Exploring the links between gambling, financial hardship and risk of homelessness (including online gambling) and improving the transparency of electronic gambling machine revenue taxation in NSW (Clancey, Callaghan, Gainsbury)
  • Regulation of online gambling and gaming in Australia (Clancey & Callaghan)
  • Climate Schools Combined, a longitudinal study to understand and reduce problems and symptoms associated with addictive disorders – inclusion of gambling questions (Birrell, Newton, Gainsbury)
  • Health4Life, a cluster randomised controlled trial of an eHealth school-based program targeting multiple lifestyle risk behaviors among young Australians – inclusion of online gaming questions (Gardner, Newton, Gainsbury)
  • Psychological problems associated with digital/interet use: A community-based survey (Starcevic, Eslick, Viswasam, Berle, Billieux)
  • Diagnostic issues in problem gaming (Starcevic)
  • Cyberchondria during and after the Covid-19 Pandemic (Starcevic)
  • Esport betting in Sweden: Pathways into esport gambling and characteristics of esport gamblers (Forsström & Gainsbury – funded by Svenska Spel Research Council)

Resources