As the Internet has rapidly become a mainstream medium, some studies have found that Internet use is associated with reduced social networks and increased loneliness, whereas other research has suggested virtually the opposite. Still other studies have found no associations at all between Internet use, social networks and level of loneliness. Some authors who have found that the Internet has a negative impact on social relationships and psychological well-being have hypothesized that Internet use encourages the creation of online relationships, which in turn replace face-to-face contacts (displacement). Since this results in an overall loss of depth that is more important than breadth for psychological well-being, Internet use consequently increases loneliness. Using a sample of 2096 Americans surveyed in 2000 to test this theory produces results that are complex. There is no evidence of displacement of face-to-face relationships with online ones, and Internet use is slightly associated with a decreased level of loneliness. However, people who have online friends are more lonely than those who do not. In this way the Internet seems to have both positive and negative effects on psychological well-being. Some suggestions are offered to explain this paradoxical finding.



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