Internet users are like Luis Suárez

Impulse control issues can lead to Internet over-use

Louis Suarez PLaying for UruguayLuis Suárez is in trouble again having allegedly bitten the shoulder of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in a World Cup match. Suárez denies the incident took place, in spite of television footage showing us what happened from every angle and his obvious personal reaction as he fell to the ground.

Suárez has form. He has bitten before, resulting in disciplinary action. Now, there are calls for him to face a substantial ban, perhaps of two years.

However, go back to 2010 when his first biting incident took place. He told The Guardian newspaper: “In those moments, your heartbeat is very high and sometimes you don’t think about what you are doing”. Here is the biggest clue about what is going on.

He admits his “heartbeat is very high” which is an indicator of high stress levels in an emotively charged situation. His adrenalin is pumping away which has several effects – one of which is to reduce blood supply to the brain and lower our ability to process conscious thoughts.

Add to this the fact that he is dubbed the “World’s best footballer”, that he is paid millions to perform and that fans depend upon him, rather than the rest of the team and you have someone who is under a great deal of stress.

Stress, emotion, adrenalin all combine into something which psychologists call “impulse control”. When our emotions run high we are less able to control our impulses.

Your impulses are normally controlled

Every day your brain prevents you from behaving impulsively. You might want to cross the road and an impulse suggests that you should run to get to the other side, but your conscious brain controls this potential behaviour by making you think about the traffic. Similarly, you might be in a meeting where you would really like to punch your boss who you think is behaving like an abusive, bullying twit – but social controls prevent you from acting on your impulses.

But add stress to those situations, include emotional impacts and those impulses are more likely to happen.

Indeed, there are some people who cannot control their impulses even when emotions are comparatively low or when stress is not present. There are a number of psychiatric conditions which are called “impulse control disorders”, including pyromania, kleptomania and some instances of drug abuse.

However, growing evidence suggests that the Internet is also an issue for people with impulse control problems.

Online shopping could be a sign of problems

Strange as it may seem, online shopping could be a sign of impulse control issues in some people. They are emotionally charged by the “pretty things” they can see thousands of online and they simply “have to” buy something – and then something else and then something else. People who shop a great deal online – perhaps even leading to credit cards maxing out – could have impulse control problems rooted in the emotional situation they are in.

But at work, much of the time people spend online is for personal stuff, such as online shopping. Staff members who seem to spend an inordinate amount of time doing this may well be susceptible.

Strangely, much online pornographic material is viewed at work – again this is down to people not being able to control  their impulses to “just have a quick look”.

In fact, everywhere you look you can see people unable  to control their impulses in some way or another online – from teenagers constantly checking “WhatsApp” to CEOs sneaking a peek at women with no clothes on. It is all the same psychology as Luis Suárez – impulse control.

Is there a cure?

If you find yourself unable to stop shopping online, looking at pornography, or simply spending hours and hours on social media, do not worry – there is something that can be done. In severe cases, cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to work very well. Some of the most difficult cases can be treated with drug therapy. But for those people who find themselves unable to control their impulse for online shopping or checking their Facebook account just one more time, the answer is much easier.

The solution is to have a timetable. Yes, even if you find yourself attracted to online porn, setting a timetable when you will do it can help. Part of the reason for the impulse for watching porn, or doing more social networking is because your brain is never sure when it is going to get its next emotional fix. By establishing a timetable – such as doing social networking for 30 minutes every day at 9pm (or whatever works for you) – ensures your brain knows that you will be doing what you like. The impulse to keep doing it subsides and your need to control that impulse is removed.

If you want to be sure you can reduce your online impulses, set a regular timetable for the things you find difficult to control.

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