The Effect of Frequency and Type of Internet Use on Perceived Social Support and Sense of Well-Being in Individuals With Spinal Cord Injury

Posted on: Saturday, 14 June 2008, 06:00 CDT
By Miller, Susan M
This article examines the effect of frequency and type of Internet use on perceived social support and sense of well-being in persons with spinal cord injury. The results show that Internet use is not significantly related to perceived social support. Bivariate analysis indicates that there is a significant negative association between total Internet use and overall sense of well-being. Simultaneous regression further investigated the nature of this relationship by examining the contribution of 10 online activities to four scales measuring sense of well-being. Frequency of online gaming was negatively associated with each scale. Disability- related information seeking was also negatively associated with psychological and financial well-being, as well as perceived social support. These results suggest that Internet use as a whole should not be overlooked by rehabilitation counselors for its practical uses to increase independence and social connectedness in persons with disabilities; however, care should be used, particularly with online gaming. Keywords: Internet use; psychosocial aspects of disabilities; perceived social support; sense of well-being; spinal cord injury
The Internet has the potential to greatly affect the independence and social connectedness of people with disabilities. It has improved access to and expanded opportunities for conducting business, interacting with others, obtaining information, and pursuing leisure activities. A Harris poll conducted in 2000 provided some initial support for the positive effects of Internet use in people with disabilities (Taylor, 2000). The results showed that although people with disabilities were less likely to be online than people without disabilities (43% versus 57%), those who did use the Internet spent twice as much time online than people without disabilities (20 hr per week versus 10 hr per week). People with disabilities were also more likely to report that the Internet significantly improved their quality of life (48% versus 27%). They reported that the Internet helped them better connect to the world and reach out to people with similar interests and life experiences.
This result is potentially important because one of the major consequences of the mobility limitations and lack of transportation common among people with disabilities is social isolation (Chan, Pruett, Miller, Frain, & Blalock, 2006). Individuals with spinal cord injury may experience barriers to mobility that make establishing social connections and participating in community activities difficult. In addition, negative attitudes and stigma may be barriers to social participation and relationship development within local communities. Research has attempted to identify ways to minimize circumstances contributing to social isolation. For example, people with chronic illness, especially those with stigmatizing dis eases (e.g., AIDS, alcoholism), have gained many psychological and physical health benefits from participation in social support groups (Davison, Pennebaker, & Dickerson, 2000). Given that the Internet may help decrease physical barriers that prevent people with disabilities from having meaningful social interactions, online social support may be a useful means of reducing social isolation (Chan et al., 2006). E-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, and online dating services may provide easier ways for persons with mobility limitations to make connections with others.
It is also important to consider the potential negative effects of Internet use on social support and quality of life. Internet use may, being a solitary activity, detract from the time that the individual spends interacting with loved ones (Sanders, Field, Diego, & Kaplan, 2000). Excessive time spent online might also take time and energy away from other meaningful work and leisure pursuits. In this light, Internet use may be similar to television viewing. According to Csikszentmihalyi (1990; Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), certain leisure activities, such as watching television, involve not much more than the passive absorption of information, requiring very little memory, thinking, and volition. Considerable participation in such activities has been found to be associated with decreased levels of subjective well- being (Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). It is possible that Internet use may also have this negative effect on well-being, depending on the online activities that are performed.