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Online harms: Risk and clinical implications


   School of Social Sciences

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  Dr D Kuss, Dr Filip Nuyens, Dr Chloe Ryding  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Online harms including problematic gaming and social media use have become serious health concerns in the 21st century. There is considerable evidence that they have negative impacts on users’ mental health. Despite this, research on online harms is limited, and lacks the specific and objective data required to implement effective interventions. The clinical implications are poorly understood, prevention approaches in the UK and across Europe are in their infancy. This research project will help tackling this global problem.  

The UK government has recognised online harms as national challenge, and in their Online Harms White Paper set out their ambition to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online. Consequently, the Online Safety Bill focuses on the duty of care of online service providers to mitigate risk and protect users.  

As result of our collaborative work in the World Health Organisation (WHO) Addictive Behaviours working group, Gaming Disorder has now been officially included in the most recent edition of the International Classification of Diseases for the first time as mental disorder, indicating the scientific and clinical community’s recognition of online harms impacts. Gaming Disorder (so-called gaming addiction) is a behavioural addiction similar to substance-related addictions. Similarly, researchers have called for the inclusion of Social Network Use Disorder in the ICD-11 given the accruing evidence.  

Online harms research has historically suffered from reliance on community and convenience samples, limiting clinical applicability. This project will address this limitation by assessing online harms’ diagnostic and implications among clinical populations (i.e., clinicians, patients) innovatively across cultures. Clinical practice will be improved regarding diagnosing (including Gaming Disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) updated diagnostic manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders Text-Revision (DSM-5-TR), treating and managing individuals affected by online harms and associated conditions (e.g., depression, anxiety, substance use, body dysmorphia). 

The project has the following research aims: 

(1) To explore the lived experience of online harms including gaming in patient samples across three countries (UK, USA and Germany) and to corroborate it by the patients’ parents’, significant others’ and therapists’ accounts. 

(2) To investigate the risk, prevalence and symptoms of Internet addictions including Gaming Disorder and their relationship with associated psychological and physical health and wellbeing variables cross-culturally. 

The research team has longstanding experience addressing online harms, and benefits from being situated within the International Gaming Research Unit and Cyberpsychology Research Group at Nottingham Trent University. 

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