Escapism and excessive online behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic: A longitudinal study in Finland
Excessive online behaviors may have become more attractive for people due to social isolation brought by COVID-19 restrictions. Exceptional pandemic circumstances provide a unique context to study the role of people’s intrinsic characteristics in the development of excessive online behaviors.
Our aim was to analyze to what extent did escapism contribute to problem gambling, digital gaming problems and compulsive internet use over time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Longitudinal survey data was collected in April–May 2021 from Finnish residents aged 18–75 (N = 1530, 50.33% male) and follow-up survey was collected in October–November 2021 with a response rate of 78 % (n=1200). Both surveys included measures for problem gambling (Problem Gambling Severity Index, PGSI), digital gaming problems (Internet Gaming Disorder Test, IGDT) and compulsive internet use (Compulsive Internet Use Scale, CIUS). Escapism-specific questions were used to construct a dedicated escapism variable. Psychological distress (MHI-5), perceived loneliness and perceived stress were used as controls. Analyses were conducted using multilevel regression.
Escapism was associated with problem gambling, digital gaming problems and compulsive internet use over time. Digital gaming problems and compulsive internet use worsened over time when linked with escapist motives.
In socially isolated contexts escapism predicts problem gambling, digital gaming problems and compulsive internet use. Escapists have a higher risk of developing deeper problems related to digital gaming and compulsive internet use than people without escapist motives.