Although it has been proposed that problematic Internet use (PIU) may represent a dysfunctional coping strategy in response to negative emotional states, there is a lack of experimental studies that directly test how individuals with PIU process emotional stimuli. In this study, we used an emotional Stroop task to examine the implicit bias toward positive and negative words in a sample of 100 individuals (54 females) who also completed questionnaires assessing PIU and current affect states. A significant interaction was observed between PIU and emotional Stroop effects (ESEs), with participants who displayed prominent PIU symptoms showing higher ESEs for negative words compared to other participants. No significant differences were found on the ESEs for positive words among participants. These findings suggest that PIU may be linked to a specific emotional interference with processing negative stimuli, thus supporting the view that PIU is a dysfunctional strategy to cope with negative affect. A potential treatment implication for individuals with PIU includes a need to enhance the capacity to process and regulate negative feelings.
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