Psychological effects of Internet use
||This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (July 2010)|
Various researchers have undertaken efforts to examine the psychological effects of Internet use. Some research employs studying brain functions in Internet users. Some studies assert that these changes are harmful, while others argue that asserted changes are beneficial.
- 1 Assertions
- 2 MRI studies
- 3 Brain power
- 4 Productivity
- 5 Effects of social networking and behavior
- 6 Attention span
- 7 Effects of anonymity
- 8 Internet addiction and disinhibition
- 9 Escapism
- 10 Effects on parenting
- 11 References
- 12 External links
American writer Nicholas Carr asserts that Internet use reduces the deep thinking that leads to true creativity. He also says that hyperlinks and overstimulation means that the brain must give most of its attention to short-term decisions. Carr also states that the vast availability of information on the World Wide Web overwhelms the brain and hurts long-term memory. He says that the availability of stimuli leads to a very large cognitive load, which makes it difficult to remember anything.
Psychologist Steven Pinker, however, argues that people have control over what they do, and that research and reasoning never came naturally to people. He says that "experience does not revamp the basic information-processing capacities of the brain" and asserts that the Internet is actually making people smarter.
Paul Bansal[who?] says that "Internet addiction can be a significant threat to one's health and social well-being in that it enforces antisocial behavior. The addiction can lead to the inability to communicate in the real world by depriving the addict of the daily practices involved with interpersonal communication. The act of using facial expressions or certain gestures to relay intended emotion or emphasize meaning decline as the addict substitutes keystrokes resembling smiley faces, or avatars. Socially, subjects become more inclined to develop personality disorders in which they identify more with their Internet representation than their real-life persona. Ultimately, an addiction to the Internet can cripple one's ability to maintain a healthy social life."
Psychologist Andre De Castro from York College NY says that social networks are the true downfall for people who use the Internet. In his research paper he describes how social networks allow people to draw on their "mirror image." This causes a disturbing psychological effect, which can confuse people on their true identities. De Castro also discusses how time consuming social networks can become for the common student. He also discusses the anxiety that constantly checking your phone can bring to the average human. Andre De Castro discusses how social networks are more addictive than drugs and can serve a severe psychological impact in the long-run of constant Internet use. He believes people go through phases and being a social network junkie is a common phase people eventually will find themselves out of. He states "It can take years to break through the social network addiction." His research paper touches on this topic in many ways.
The BBC describes the research published in the peer-reviewed science journal PLoS ONE:
- "A research team led by Hao Lei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan carried out brain scans of 35 men and women aged between 14 and 21. Seventeen of them were classed as having Internet addiction disorder (IAD) on the basis of answering yes to questions such as, “Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop Internet use?”
Specialised MRI brain scans showed changes in the white matter of the brain—the part that contains nerve fibres—in those classed as being web addicts, compared with non-addicts. Furthermore, the study says, "We provided evidences demonstrating the multiple structural changes of the brain in IAD subjects. VBM results indicated the decreased gray matter volume in the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), the supplementary motor area (SMA), the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), the cerebellum and the left rostral ACC (rACC)." 
UCLA professor of psychiatry Gary Small studied brain activity in experienced web surfers versus casual web surfers. He used MRI scans on both groups to evaluate brain activity. The study showed that when Internet surfing, the brain activity of the experienced Internet users was far more extensive than that of the novices, particularly in areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with problem-solving and decision making. However, the two groups had no significant differences in brain activity when reading blocks of text. This evidence suggested that the distinctive neural pathways of experienced Web users had developed because of their Web use. Dr. Small concluded that “The current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate, but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains.” 
Effect on traditional reading
In an August 2008 article in The Atlantic, Nicholas Carr experientially asserts that using the Internet can lead to lower attention span and make it more difficult to read in the traditional sense (that is, read a book at length without mental interruptions). He says that he and his friends have found it more difficult to concentrate and read whole books, even though they read a great deal when they were younger (that is, when they did not have access to the Internet). This assertion is based on anecdotal evidence, not controlled research.
Researchers from the University College London have done a 5-year study on Internet habits, and have found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. The 2008 report says, "It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense."
Research suggests that using the Internet helps boost brain power for middle-aged and older people (research on younger people has not been done.) The study compares brain activity when the subjects were reading and when the subjects were surfing the Internet. It found that Internet surfing uses much more brain activity than reading does. Lead researcher Professor Gary Small said: "The study results are encouraging, that emerging computerized technologies may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults. Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function."
One of the most widely debated effects of social networking has been its influence on productivity. In many schools and workplaces, Facebook and MySpace are blocked because employers believe their employees will be distracted and unfocused on the sites. It seems, at least from one study, that employers do, indeed, have reason to be concerned. A survey from Hearst Communications found that productivity levels of people that used social networking sites were 1.5% lower than those that did not. Logically, people cannot get work done when they are performing other tasks. If the employees suffer from degrading self-control, it will be even harder for them to get back to work and maintain productivity.
Evgeny Morozov has said that social networking could be potentially harmful to people. He writes that they can destroy privacy, and notes that "Insurance companies have accessed their patients’ Facebook accounts to try to disprove they have hard-to-verify health problems like depression; employers have checked social networking sites to vet future employees; university authorities have searched the web for photos of their students’ drinking or smoking pot." He also said that the Internet also makes people more complacent and risk averse. He said that because much of the ubiquity of modern technology—cameras, recorders, and such—people may not want to act in unusual ways for fear of getting a bad name. People can see pictures and videos of you on the Internet, and this may make you act differently.
Sherry Turkle discuss in her book "Alone together" the effects of Internet and Social Media on our behavior. She talks about people being tethered, she means that nowadays we're all tied up to our smart phones, computers etc. Turkle describes how social codes nowadays has changed, today it seems natural to most people that a phone call is prioritized over a real life conversation. She even describes how people mark their departure by putting their mobile phone against their ear. Multitasking is also a matter discussed by Turkle, today it is something people in all ages do. Turkle describes how children do homework, chat on Facebook and listen to music all at the same time. This development is highly due to Internet and Social Media and earlier it was seen as a bit of revolution, to be able to multitask was something good that everyone should learn. Research has shown though that multitasking is not very effective. It feels good for our mind, we get somewhat of a kick out of do a lot of things at the same time. But we will not do them better. Turkle mentions something that is a bit related to the matter of multitasking. She says that with media always present we lose a sense of choosing to communicate. She means that the constant communication is somehow integrated in our minds. Talking to children she describes that they don't find anything weird in being interrupted in their homework every 5 minutes by Facebook or their phone.
From 53,573 page views taken from various users, 17% of the views lasted less than 4 seconds while 4% lasted more than 10 minutes. In regards to page content, users will only read 49% of a site that contain 111 words of fewer while users will opt to read 28% of an average website (approximately 593 words). For each additional 100 words on a site, users will spend 4.4 seconds longer on the site.
Although attention span has been decreasing over time (decreased from 12 seconds to 8 seconds in 2000-2012), it is found that those who read articles online go through the article more thoroughly than those who read from print-based materials. Upon choosing their reading material, almost 66% of people who opt to read online would read the entire piece as opposed to stopping midway.
Effects of anonymity
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Interacting on the Internet mostly does not involve "physical" interactions with another person (i.e. face-to-face conversation), and therefore easily leads to a person feeling free to act differently online, as well as unrestraint in civility and minimization of authority, etc.
People who are socially anxious are more likely to use electronic communication as their only means of communication. This, in turn, makes them more likely to disclose personal information to strangers online that they normally wouldn't give out face-to-face. The phenomenon is a likely cause for the prevalence of cyberbullying, especially for children who do not understand "social networking etiquette."
Internet addiction and disinhibition
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People become addicted or dependent on the Internet through excessive computer use that interferes with daily life.
"Aric Sigman’s presentation to members of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health outlined the parallels between screen dependency and alcohol and drug addiction: the instant stimulation provided by all those flickering graphics leads to the release of dopamine, a chemical that’s central to the brain’s reward system".
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An author who writes about escapism is Sherry Turkle in her book “Always on”. She writes about escaping from reality to a virtual “place” in a role-playing game called Second Life. The game is about living a life with an avatar that you create. You choose the looks and cloths of the avatar and then it is just to start this virtual life online. You can for example get an education, launch a business, buy land, build a home and have a social life including love and marriage. Among these things your created avatar can hang out in virtual bars and restaurants as well as going to business meetings and relax on beaches. Turkle goes on and say that it is common for people playing these games that they feel more like themselves in the online world than they do in the real world. In the book Turkle writes about an interview she has done with a forty-six year old man called Pete and he uses Second Life to live a life beyond his disappointing marriage. This he can easily do by using his phone. He has created a male avatar and he is married to a female avatar in the virtual world on Second Life. He says that he can easily talk about problems he has in his real world and has better relationships than he has in real life. There are also many others who think that it is more accepting to be the truest self in virtual worlds and it could also for some be possible to stay in marriage in the real life when having a virtual lover. Not being bounded to a computer anymore, but you can with your phone access the virtual world makes it easy and you can do it whenever and wherever. This makes it easier to manage the tensions of everyday existence to use our lives as avatars.
Effects on parenting
The effects of the Internet on parenting can be observed a how parents utilize the Internet, the response to their child's Internet consumption, as well as the effects and influences that the Internet has on the relationship between parent and child.
Parental Internet use and opinions towards family impact
Overall, parents are seen to do simple tasks such as sending e-mails and keep up with current events whereas social networking sites are less frequented. In regards to researching parental material, a study conducted in January 2012 by the University of Minnesota found that 75% of questioned parents have stated that the Internet improves their method of obtaining parenting related information, 19.7% found parenting websites too complex to navigate, and 13.1% of the group did not find any useful parenting information on any website.
Many studies have shown that parents view the Internet as a hub of information especially in their children's education. They feel that it is a valuable commodity that can enhance their learning experience and when used in this manner it does not contribute to any family tension or conflicts. However, when the Internet is used as a social medium (either online gaming or social networking sites) there is a positive correlation between the use of the Internet and family conflicts. In conjunction with using the Internet for social means, there is a risk of exposing familial information to strangers, which is perceived to parents as a threat and can ultimately weaken family boundaries.
Parental response to child online consumption
A report released in October 2012 by Ofcom focused on the amount of online consumption done by children aged 5–15 and how the parents react to their child’s consumption. Of the parents interviewed, 85% use a form of online mediation ranging from face-to-face talks with their children about online surfing to cellphone browser filters. The remaining 15% of parents do not take active measures to adequately inform their children of safe Internet browsing; these parents have either spoken only briefly to their children about cautious surfing or do not do anything at all.
Parents are active in monitoring their child’s online use by using methods such as investigating the browsing history and by regulating Internet usage. However, since parents are less versed in Internet usage than their children they are more concerned with the Internet interfering with family life than online matters such as child grooming or cyber-bullying.
When addressing those with lack of parental control over the Internet, parents state that their child is rarely alone (defined for children from 5–11 years old) or that they trust their children when they are online (for children 12–15 years old). Approximately 80% of parents ensure that their child has been taught Internet safety from school and 70% of parents feel that the benefits of using the Internet are greater than the risks that come along with it.
Conversely an American study, conducted by PewInternet released on November 20, 2012, reveal that parents are highly concerned about the problems the Internet can impose on their teenage children. 47% of parents are tend to worry about their children being exposed to inappropriate material on the Internet and 45% of the parents are concerned about their children’s behaviour towards each other both online and offline. Only 31% of parents showed concern about the Internet taking away social time from the family.
Effects of Internet use on parent-child relationships
Researcher Sanford Grossbart and others explores the relationship between the mother and child and how Internet use affects this relationship. This study forms its basis around Marvin Sussman and Suzanne Steinmetz’s idea that the relationship between parent and child is highly influenced by the changing experiences and events of each generation. “Parental warmth” is a factor in how receptive a parent is to being taught the nuances of the Internet by their child versus the traditional method of the parent influencing the child. If the parent displayed “warm” tendencies she was more open to learning how to use the Internet from their child even if the parent happened to be more knowledgeable on the subject. This fosters teaching in a positive environment, which sustains a strong relationship between mother and child, encourages education, and promotes mature behaviour. “Cooler” mothers only allowed themselves to be taught if they thought that their child held the same amount of knowledge or greater and would dismiss the teaching otherwise suggesting a relationship that stems from the majority of influence coming from the parent.
However despite warm and cool parenting methods, parents who encounter a language barrier rely more heavily on their children to utilize the Internet. Professor Vikki Katz from Rutgers University has studied the interaction between immigrant parents and children and how they use technology. Katz notes that the majority resources that immigrants find helpful are located online, however the search algorithms currently in place do not direct languages other than English appropriately. Because of this shortcoming, parents strongly encourage their bilingual children to bridge the gap between the Internet and language.
The Internet is increasingly being used as a virtual babysitter when parents actively download applications specifically for their children with intentions to keep them calm. A survey conducted by Ipsos has found that half of the interviewed parents believe children ages 8–13 are old enough to own or carry smartphones thus increasing online content consumption in younger generations.
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