During the COVID-19 lockdown, problematic Internet use (PIU) has become a serious issue among residential college students, who remain physically isolated from off-campus society. This study constructs an integrated model to investigate the influencing mechanisms of internal locus of control (LOC) and objective peer effects.
Residential college students ( n = 494) were surveyed from a single department of a Chinese university. An item from the World Value Survey was employed to measure internal LOC, while objective peer effects were assessed via friends’ mutual nominations. Finally, PIU was measured using Young’s Internet Addiction Tests, while a social network analysis and logit regression were combined to estimate various factors’ effects on PIU.
In our sample, the prevalence rate of PIU was 30.6%, and while internal LOC was a protective factor for PIU, its protective role was diluted when exposed to a peer environment with high PIU prevalence. Furthermore, indegree performed contrasting roles on PIU under various network conditions. It acted as a protective factor when exposed to a low prevalence of PIU in a peer environment; however, it became a risk factor when PIU peers were prevalent. Lastly, the protective efficacy of betweenness was activated when individuals had more than one PIU friend.