Researchers at the University of South Florida College of Medicine studied two delusional patients who feared they were being controlled by the Internet and concluded that such worries would be come more common as the Web continues to grow in popularity. Their study is published in the June issue of the American Southern Medical Journal.
Delusional patients sometimes fear that people can hear their thoughts through devices such as radios or mobile phones.
In the cases cited in this study, one man thought that a friend in the CIA planted "Internet bugs" in his ears that could read his mind. He also believed his friends had placed incriminating photos of him on the Web. The other subject said he ran an online service that gave advice to witches. Ironically, both patients had little, if any, experience with the Internet, the research paper said.
"Their ignorance may have intensified their fantasies of the Internet, causing an amplification of their fear," wrote USF researchers Dr. Glenn Catalano and his colleagues. "These delusions about the Internet may become more prevalent as Internet use continues."
The study says delusions are often shaped by current events. For example, during Operating Desert Storm, many people had war-related delusions.
The research is part of a growing number of studies focusing on the Internet's effects on psychiatry and society in general. In December 1997, a highly-publicised study on Internet addiction was released, and researchers also have been examining addictions to cybersex and online gambling.