Once the 2000’s rolled around, internet and other technology became more prominent in our households. Meeting someone who did not have some sort of internet hook-up became rare, and those who didn’t could easily go to their local library, and surf the web. With time moving forward, technology continues to move further, and the amount of internet usage has increased. For the most part, we stopped using telephones to interact with loved ones, and switched to e-mail and even instant messaging programs such as AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger. Where at one time, the only way to connect was through a dial-up connection on our desktop computers, we can now connect with cellphones and even our smart watches.
Developers such as Tom Anderson and Mark Zuckerberg took advantage of the internet’s popularity and created online communities, Myspace and Facebook, in order for us to keep up with our classmates, co-workers, family members, and old friends. To date, Facebook has over one billion active users and continues to grow every day. Thanks to the relevancy and popularity of the internet, we now have everything at the touch of a finger, making it a perfect subject for psychologists.
Cyberpsychology can easily be defined by simply breaking down the two concepts. Cyber refers to computers, technology, and virtual reality, while Psychology is defined as the study of the human mind, it’s many functions, and how that affects behavior. Therefore, cyberpsychology studies how the human mind embraces technology, and the effects the immersion could cause. Cyberpsychology encompasses a wide range of subjects, including but not limited to, personality changes in online communities, online relationships, and addictions to technology and the internet. The study targets social networking, online shopping, video gaming, cyberbullying, cyber therapy, and much more. Another area that receives attention in the subject is artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and cybernetics, or the science of electronic components intertwined with human tissue and the mental ramifications of the union.
With an increasing number of users on sites like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram, it’s not surprising why it is a target for cyberpsychology. These social networking websites allow its users to voice fact, opinion, and share their beliefs. Although it may sound like this could be a positive aspect, it does have its downside. Everyone has an opinion, and unfortunately, they tend to tear down other people when their opinion differs. Religion, politics, and even mundane activities of daily life fall into question. A clash of opinions may turn into arguments, and even lead into cyber bullying. Words can sting, and in this day of sharing everything, people truly put their hearts out there.
Cyberpsychology has found other several threats to mental health with the frequent use of social networking. Feelings of low self-esteem may arise as you follow the daily lives of others. Tuning into another’s life and watching them succeed at situations that you may not have necessarily reached yet yourself (e.g., marriage, children, job promotions) can leave you feeling hopeless and even discouraged. Frequent use may also lead to a fear of missing out, social isolation, addictive behavior, sleep deprivation, eating disorders, and anxiety disorders. Of course, there are also pros to social networking, such as a feeling of belongingness and being socially connected.
Video gaming is another focus for cyberpsychologists. The subject may also be seen as controversial – as some believe gaming may lead to violent and aggressive behaviors. Those who may not necessarily agree with this argument, believe that video games can prove to be beneficial for mental health. Being immersed into a video game tends to make you happier. Not only does it affect mood, research by the scientists at Queen Mary University of London and University College London found that gaming may even improve thinking skills (http://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/news/items/se/112578.html).
A lot of studies have been done to find if there is a correlation between video games and aggressive behavior, and although there seems to be a link between the two, there is still insufficient evidence to prove this. A study was done at Ohio State University, that showed that when a group of men formed a team on a game, they became more cooperative, and showed less signs of aggression than those who played in a competitive environment (http://www.bps.org.uk/news/violent-video-games-now-good-news). A majority of studies determined to find this relationship between video games and violence tend to pay more focus on individuals rather than group settings. With services like X-Box Live, Steam, and the Playstation Network, gamers are now playing in group settings with friends and even strangers than ever before. Of course, violence in video games may play as a factor, but it’s not a sole predictor of violent behavior.
Cyberpsychologists also focus on gaming addiction, and if excessive video game play may lead to consequences in relationships, academics, substance abuse, and mood stability. Again, this subject is controversial, and literature is very limited on the subject. Though one study did conclude that spending time playing video games does not involve negative consequences, but gamers who do have problems relating to video games are more likely to also experience problems in other aspects of life (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4117274/).
Cyberpsychology covers a whole world of topics and conditions. As we become more dependent on social media, gaming and other outlets for acceptance and even friendship, the demand for help in the mental field has grown and will continue to grow in this digital age. Milestones have been reached in this field, but there is still much to do. Cyberbullying is something that needs to be addressed in all outlets. It is itself a disease. Along with gaming addictions and twitter wars. Social media was designed to make the world a closer, happier place. Unfortunately, there are always problems that arise in social media that victimize some and give others the false sense of control that uiltimately leads to bullying. This cause and effect scenario is one of many issues that cyberpsychologists study. A very needed science in today’s digital society.