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Problematic internet use: an exploration of associations between cognition and COMT rs4818, rs4680 haplotypes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 June 2019

Konstantinos Ioannidis
Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Sarah A. Redden
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Stephanie Valle
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Samuel R. Chamberlain
Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Jon E. Grant*
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA
*Address correspondence to: Jon E. Grant, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Chicago, Pritzker School of Medicine, 5841 S. Maryland Avenue, MC 3077, Chicago, IL 60637, USA. (Email:



Problematic internet users suffer from impairment in a variety of cognitive domains. Research suggests that COMT haplotypes exert differential effects on cognition. We sought to investigate differences in the genetic profiles of problematic internet users and whether those could shed light on potential cognitive differences.


We recruited 206 non-treatment seeking participants with heightened impulsive traits and obtained cross-sectional demographic, clinical, and cognitive data as well as the genetic haplotypes of COMT rs4680 and rs4818. We identified 24 participants who presented with problematic internet use (PIU) and compared PIU and non-PIU participants using one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) and chi square as appropriate.


PIU was associated with worse performance on decision making, rapid visual processing, and spatial working memory tasks. Genetic variants were associated with altered cognitive performance, but rates of PIU did not statistically differ for particular haplotypes of COMT.


This study indicates that PIU is characterized by deficits in decision making and working memory domains; it also provides evidence for elevated impulsive responses and impaired target detection on a sustained attention task, which is a novel area worth exploring further in future work. The effects observed in the genetic influences on cognition of PIU subjects imply that the genetic heritable components of PIU may not lie within the genetic loci influencing COMT function and cognitive performance; or that the genetic component in PIU involves many genetic polymorphisms each conferring only a small effect.

Original Research
© Cambridge University Press 2019

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