Does the Internet make people sad?

That’s what researchers in England are trying to determine, after a recent study by psychologists found that those who spend a lot of time online are more likely to show symptoms of depression.

"The Internet now plays a huge part in modern life, but its benefits are accompanied by a darker side,” said Catriona Morrison, the lead author of the study, to be published Wednesday in the journal Psychopathology.

What Morrison and others have not figured out is whether excessive usage causes depression or whether people who spend the most time online are more depressed to begin with.

The survey’s conclusions focused on “compulsive” Internet users, those who have replaced “real life social interaction with online chat rooms and social networking sites.”

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These people, who also spend a disproportionate amount of their online time looking at porn and gaming Web sites, accounted for just over 1 percent of the 1,319 people, aged 16 to 51, the researchers polled.

Still, the authors note, by comparison, the rate of gambling in the U.K. – another compulsive behavior – is lower, at 0.6 percent.

“While many of us use the Internet to pay bills, shop and send emails, there is a small subset of the population who find it hard to control how much time they spend online, to the point where it interferes with their daily activities," said Morrison.