Cybersex addiction : Conditioning processes and implicit cognition

Research on cybersex addiction, as one form of specific Internet addiction, has been receiving growing attention in the past years. However, there is no consensus regarding the phenomenology, classification, and diagnostic criteria of cybersex addiction and respectively Internet addiction, so far. Some approaches suggest similarities to substance dependencies for which conditioning processes, approach/avoidance tendencies, and implicit associations are seen to be crucial mechanisms regarding development and maintenance. In the course of this dissertation, three studies that aim at investigating these mechanisms in the context of cybersex addiction were conducted. Each study adapted an experimental paradigm used in substance dependence research while it was expected to obtain comparable results. First, to investigate conditioning processes, a Standard Pavlovian to Instrumental Transfer Task (Hogarth, Dickinson, Wright, Kouvaraki, & Duka, 2007) was modified. Second, an adapted version of the Approach Avoidance Task (Rinck & Becker, 2007) was used for investigating a potential role of approach/avoidance tendencies. Third, to assess effects of implicit associations on cybersex addiction, an Implicit Association Test was adapted (Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998). All experimental paradigms were modified with pornographic pictures. Results revealed that conditioning processes, approach/avoidance tendencies as well as implicit associations had an effect on tendencies towards cybersex addiction. Moreover, all three studies could show that self-reported symptoms of cybersex addiction were particularly high if the investigated mechanisms interacted either with specific predispositions towards sex (i.e. sexual excitation or problematic sexual behaviors) or subjective craving due to watching pornographic pictures. Overall, the findings of this dissertation provide further empirical evidence for similarities between cybersex addiction and substance dependencies. Therefore, similarities between dual-process models of addiction (Bechara, 2005; Wiers & Stacy, 2006) and the theoretical framework of cybersex addiction by Laier and Brand (2014) are discussed. Furthermore, extensions of the cybersex addiction framework by Laier and Brand (2014) are proposed. At last, practical implications are discussed, while limitations and future directives are pointed out.


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