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Monday, January 5 12:01 AM EST

Psychologists Discover Application-Induced Social Dysfunction

By Bruce Wood

Palo Alto, CA - Professors from the Stanford Department of Psychology reported the discovery of a new personality disorder: Application-induced Social Dysfunction.

Certain professions can warp the personality of people in those professions. For example, teachers who speak to adults as if they were students and police officers who treat family like criminals. What researchers are now realizing is that a high degree of exposure to certain software applications can cause similar dysfunctional effects.

"We first became aware of ASD through a young man who came to us in 2001 complaining about his roommate," said Professor Geoff Turner, "His roommate would enter his bedroom and begin talking. The two would converse normally. However, once the conversation had clearly finished, his roommate would persist in the room, showing no plan of leaving, and would have to be physically pushed out of the room."

"Over the course of the next few weeks, we found other similar behaviors. When shopping, he would often continue to stand in front of the register in the checkout line for several minutes after he had paid the cashier. We also saw at a party that he stayed long after all other guests had left and the hosts clearly wished him to leave."

"The breakthrough came for us when we were watching him use his PC," said Turner. "At first we were looking to see if the materials he was browsing online were perhaps having some harmful effect, but we could find nothing obviously harmful. It was when he clicked on the 'X' in the top right corner of the window to close AOL that we saw it. The window did not close as you would expect - instead, a further window popped up offering AOL's broadband service. We saw the facial muscles twitch, the jaw clench, heard the faint guttural sound of irritation - we knew we'd found our cause."

One clinical report in the study detailed the case of a 27-year-old male, known only as ‘B’. "B converses intelligently and is in clear possession of his motor skills," an extract reads. "However, when performing simple tasks such as waiting at a stop signal while driving, he is apt to fall silent and motionless for a long time. Often the light will turn green and back to red again with no visible motion on his part."

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B puzzled us for the longest time," recalls researcher Marie Cobthorne. "We were sure it was ASD but we couldn't find any application that could be doing it - for the most part he was using Cygwin, though installed on Windows. It was only when he was done for the day and shutting his down his PC that I found the solution. I saw the words 'Saving your Settings' appear on his screen and hang there - it was incredible - B stopped talking midword and sat motionless for a full seven minutes."

"The good news is that usually the effects are reversible," Turner explained. "It is simply a matter of uninstalling the offending software and sticking to better written applications. Of course, Microsoft employees are not that lucky," he added.

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