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Cyberpsychology (or Internet psychology or web psychology) is a developing field that encompasses all psychological phenomena that are associated with or affected by emerging technology. Cyber comes from the word cyberspace, the study of the operation of control and communication; psychology is the study of the mind and behavior.


Cyberpsychology is the study of the human mind and its behavior in the context of human interaction and communication of both man and machine, further expanding its bounds with the culture of computers and virtual reality that take place on the Internet.[1] However, mainstream research studies seem to focus on the effect of the Internet and cyberspace on the psychology of individuals and groups. Some hot topics include: online identity, online relationships, personality types in cyberspace, transference to computers, addiction to computers and Internet, regressive behavior in cyberspace, online gender-switching, etc. Media Psychology is an emerging specialty and the Society for Media Psychology and Technology of the American Psychological Association, i.e., APA division 46 counts many psychologists working in this field among its members.

While statistical and theoretical research in this field are based around Internet usage, cyberpsychology also includes the study of the psychological ramifications of cyborgs, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. Although some of these topics may appear to be the stuff of science fiction, they are quickly becoming science fact as evidenced by interdisciplinary approaches involving the fields of biology, engineering, and mathematics. The field of cyberpsychology remains open to refinement and new purposes including inquiry into the nature of current and future trends in mental illness associated with technological advances.

It was around the turn of the millennium that people in the United States broke the 50 percent mark in Internet use, personal computer use, and cell phone use. With such a broad exposure to computers and their displays, our perceptions go beyond objects and images in our natural environment to now include graphics and images on the computer screen. As the overlaps between man and machine expand, the relevance of human–computer interaction (HCI) research within the field of cyberpsychology will become more visible and necessary in understanding the current modern lifestyles of many people. With the rising number of Internet and computer users around the world, computer technology's effects on the human psyche will continue to significantly shape both our interactions with each other and our perceptions of the world that is literally "at our fingertips". A study published in the journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking (2014) suggests that the prevalence of internet addiction varies considerably between countries and is inversely related to quality of life.[2]

Social networking and cyberpsychological behavior[edit]

Facebook, being the leading online social media platform on a global scale, has countless influences on users' psychological status. Facebook follows the pattern of one-to-many communication, which allows users to share information about their lives, including social activities and photographs.[3] This changed in 2010, when Facebook Messenger was implemented to allow users more one-on-one communication merging with the Facebook Chat feature. While Facebook users enjoy the sense of being connected,[4] frequent use of Facebook is threatening users' mental health. Depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, and negative relationships are all possible consequences that caused by frequent use of Facebook. The briefed response through the Like button, exposing of personal life in public, and trying to maintain self-image are few reasons that can explain the psychological problem caused by using Facebook frequently.


Facebook is criticized for causing depression, especially among teenage users. A study conducted by Michigan University concluded that frequent Facebook use invoked feelings of depression and inadequacy. The research observed 82 Facebook users over a two-week period.[5] The results suggest that the more time the subject spent on Facebook, that their feelings of well-being decreased as feelings of depression increased. UM social psychologist Ethan Kross, who is the lead author of the study, stated that the research tracked (on a moment-to-moment basis throughout the day) how a person's mood fluctuated during time spent on Facebook, and whether or not they modified their Facebook usage, the outcome was measurably unchanged.[6]

Low self-esteem[edit]

On occasion, Facebook users tend to compare or contrast the lives of their friends with their own, while ignoring that their friends may post the most joyous or entertaining experiences in their lives, or that these experiences could be fictitious. According to a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,[7] Alexander Jordan, and his fellow researchers at Stanford University asked 80 freshmen to report whether they or their peers had recently experienced various negative and positive emotional events. Time and again, the subjects underestimated how many negative experiences ("had a distressing fight", "felt sad because they missed people") their peers were having. They also overestimated how much fun ("going out with friends", "attending parties") these same peers were having. In another study, the researchers found a sample of 140 Stanford students unable to accurately gauge others' happiness even when they were evaluating the moods of people they were close to—friends, roommates and people they were dating. And in a third study, the researchers found that the more students underestimated others' negative emotions, the more they tended to report feeling lonely and brooding over their own miseries. This is correlation, not causation, mind you; it could be that those subjects who started out feeling worse imagined that everyone else was getting along just fine, not the other way around. But the notion that feeling alone in your day-to-day suffering might increase that suffering certainly makes intuitive sense.Jordan's research doesn't look at Facebook explicitly, but if his conclusions are correct, it follows that the site would have a special power to make us sadder and lonelier. By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people's lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles' heel of human nature.[8]

Social isolation[edit]

It is relative easy for someone to find hundreds of friends on Facebook, which may seem difficult to achieve in real life. However, rather than meeting friends face to face, chatting with someone online who may be a total stranger doesn’t help to build friendship, instead they feel even lonelier. Geraint Rees, and his colleagues at the University College of London examined the fMRI brain scans of 125 frequent Facebook users and found out that the average friends on Facebook is 300, yet having more friends online did not significantly make particular regions of the brain larger or more active.[9] This research provides evidence that more friends on Facebook does not mean more positive relationships. Friends on Facebook are not the source of life motivation, since the research points out that the number of friends we have has no direct influence on the brain. Facebook uses the "like" and "comment" button as means of interaction; however, this interaction is too brief and does not show concern about the one who posts on his or her Facebook wall. The brief interaction is one of the reasons that the feelings of isolation develop.

Negative relationships[edit]

Facebook has also been linked to the increased divorce and/ or break-up rates. Couples so inclined tend to express feelings of jealousy when their partners comment on a person of the opposite gender's wall. To cope with the uncertainty of a suspected romantic relationship, partner surveillance on Facebook is becoming more popular. However, skepticism between couples may inevitably cause the end of relationship. Russell B. Clayton, Alexander Nagurney and Jessica R. Smith, surveyed 205 Facebook users aged 18–82 to determine if frequent Facebook use predicated negative relationship outcomes. Furthermore, the researchers examined length of relationship as a moderator variable in the aforementioned model. The results indicate that a high level of Facebook usage is associated with negative relationship outcomes, and that these relationships are indeed mediated by Facebook-related conflict. This series of relationships only holds for those who are, or have been, in relatively newer relationships of 3 years or less. The current study adds to the growing body of literature investigating Internet use and relationship outcomes, and may be a precursor to further research investigating whether Facebook use attributes to the divorce rate, emotional cheating, and physical cheating.[10]

Fear of missing out (FOMO)[edit]

A byproduct of social media addiction is a syndrome known as fear of missing out, or FOMO.[11] This syndrome occurs through a user's repetitive and obsessive status-checking of "friend" status updates and posts related to social events or celebrations resulting in a feeling of being "left out". There is a converse, polar-opposite reaction called "fear of being missed" (FOBM),[12] which involves an obsessive need to provide constant status updates on one's own personal, day-to-day life, movements, travel, events, etc. unable to "un-plug".

Sleep deprivation[edit]

Research suggests that social networking can lead to sleep deprivation.A study commissioned by Travelodge hotels[13] in the United Kingdom surveyed 6,000 adults to explore the nation's bedtime habits and key findings revealed 'we' have become a nation of 'Online-A-Holics'. On average each night Britons are spending 16 minutes in bed socially networking with pals – with the peak chatting time being 9:45pm. This time spent social networking is affecting Britons sleep quota as on average respondents reported they are getting just six hours and 21 minutes sleep per night. (This is one hour and 39 minutes below the recommended quota of eight hours of sleep per night.) Further research findings revealed that 65% respondents stated the very last thing they do before nodding off at night is to check their mobile phone for text messages. On average Britons will spend around nine minutes every night texting before falling asleep. Four out of ten adults reported they have a regular text communication with friends in bed every night.[14]

Addictive behavior[edit]

Recent studies have shown a connection between online social media such as Facebook use to addictive behaviors, emotion regulation, impulse control, and substance abuse. Results from a survey of university undergraduates showed that almost 10% met criteria for what investigators describe as "disordered social networking use."[15] Respondents who met criteria for "Facebook addiction" also reported statistically significant symptoms commonly linked to addiction, such as tolerance (increased Facebook use over time), withdrawal (irritability when unable to access Facebook), and cravings to access the site, she added. "Our findings suggest that there may be shared mechanisms underlying both substance and behavioral addictions," Hormes added.[15]

The study was published[16] in the December issue of Addiction.

Eating disorders[edit]

A study conducted by the University of Haifa in 2011 showed that the more time teenage girls spend on Facebook, the higher their risk of developing negative body images and eating disorders. A more recent study by researchers at Florida State University found a correlation between Facebook use and disordered eating.[17][18]

Researchers examined the relationship between college women's media use and two sets of variables (disordered-eating symptomatology and a set of related variables, including body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness) and assessed the relationship between college men's media use and their endorsement of thinness for themselves and for women. We expected to find consumption of thinness-depicting and thinness-promoting TDP) media related to disordered eating and thinness endorsement, with the social learning process of modeling accounting for the relationships. For women, media use predicted disordered-eating symptomatology, drive for thinness, body dissatisfaction, and ineffectiveness. For men, media use predicted endorsement of personal thinness and dieting and select attitudes in favor of thinness and dieting for women.[19]

Social media and memes[edit]

A consequent component of the social media experience is internet memes. As the internet acquired its own variety of memes and language, intellectual convergence became apparently existent in the minds of internet users. Digital inhabitants have voluntarily created various requirements and standards that must be met for a successful interaction. The distinguishing judgment of others is implied in the sharing of memes, and this judgment leads to differences in social existence.[20] The phenomenon of information infection through internet memes can influence the ways internet users will acquire and interpret data. This in turn affects their participation, interactions, and behaviors online and offline.

Social media and ADHD[edit]

Studies reveal connections between ADHD and the obstacles that highly engaging and stimulating technologies may pose. Simply put, social media quickly and easily engages the brain. Clinical psychologist Michelle Frank, who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in college students, young adults, and women, stated, "The ADHD brain is already one that struggles with motivation, activation, organizing behaviors, managing time, and maintaining focus...Technology, left un-managed, makes these struggles considerably more difficult. There are several genetic markers that have been discovered linking ADHD, dopamine activity, brain connectivity and heredity (most notably, DRD4). ADHD is a scientifically validated brain difference. The unique challenges that result are prime vulnerabilities to the common pitfalls of technology use." Frank explained that an individual with ADHD has structural, functional, and chemical differences compared to a neurotypical brain. These differences include:

  • Less dopamine and norepinephrine, both key ingredients to activation, attention, reward and motivation,
  • An aversion to boredom and low-stimulation,
  • Trouble thinking ahead, inhibiting impulses, and prioritizing activities, and;
  • Decreased ability to activate and regulate behavior, including emotion.

These differences also explain why ADHD individuals may be more prone to engage in risky or unhelpful behaviors online and struggle to control spontaneous impulses without thinking of future consequences. The ADHD brain is primed to seek out more stimulation that neurotypical brains, and technology is ripe source of engagement. For these reasons, there is an emerging body of research that suggests that internet addiction and unhealthy social media activity may be more prevalent in ADHD individuals.

Another compounding piece of the social media puzzle is related to time management. Individuals with ADHD have trouble with awareness of time, procrastination, avoidant behaviors, and staying on task. Frank explains that ADHD individuals often misperceive time and have trouble thinking into the future; NOW is the dominant time zone. Therefore, time management is a challenge. We already know how much of a time-sucker the Internet, video games, and other digital media can be. Add the social element, and you can completely lose track of your day, your week, even your life.[21]

Technological developments directly affect those who cannot multitask or work with the demands of modern technology, resulting in symptoms of ADD or ADHD.[22]

Anxiety disorders[edit]

Some behavioral consequences of the new digital brain are hyperactivity, inattention, depression and multitasking mania. Based upon research for brain development, there is a conclusion stating that daily exposure to high technology stimulates brain alternation and neurotransmitter release; ultimately strengthening new pathways in the brain. The human mind is now learning to access and process information more rapidly and shift attention quickly from one task to the next. All this access and vast selection is causing some entertainment seeker’s brains to develop the constant need for instant gratification with a loss of patience.[23] To narrow down the connection between ADD and the Internet, Ju-Yu Yen at Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital in Taiwan discovered that being easily bored rather than easily distracted is the core symptom of inattentive ADHD. Internet activities are based highly upon their interactivity levels and immediate response rates; these quick actions relive the feeling of boredom and possibly create a physical addiction.[24] The Internet becomes the cure for those who cannot hold focus. Once again, research concludes that male college students are more likely to be screened positively for adult ADHD; however, the overall association between Internet addiction and attention deficit is more significant in females.[25] The fast-paced lifestyle created by the Internet affects the way the human brain processes and receives information. Humans are now more anxious and their attention span is weakened by the over stimulation from technology. One theory is that web addicts have underlying depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Ostracism in cyberspace[edit]

Research data indicates that social rejection or ostracism in an immersive virtual environment threatens four basic fundamental needs (i.e., belonging, control, self-esteem, and meaningful existence) and also has a negative impact on affect. These data replicate previous findings in studies using other ostracism paradigms.[26]

This research suggests the possibility that individuals who use virtual environments (e.g., MMORPGs, massively multiplayer online role-playing games) may have everyday experiences with ostracism in these environments. At this point, ostracism has been manipulated experimentally in various ways, from face-to-face group interactions to minimal electronic-based interactions. This study presents the first evidence, to our knowledge, of ostracism in virtual environments. Our data suggest that not only does ostracism in this environment have the same negative effects as in other environments, but these effects are powerful; the effect sizes were medium to large in magnitude.[27]

Positive correlates of social media use[edit]

Research conducted by Australian researchers demonstrated that a number of positive psychological outcomes are related to Facebook use.[4][28] These researchers established that people can derive a sense of social connectedness and belongingness in the online environment. Importantly, this online social connectedness was associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety, and greater levels of subjective wellbeing. These findings suggest that the nature of online social networking determines the outcomes of online social network use.

Psychotherapy in cyberspace[edit]

Psychotherapy in cyberspace, also known as cybertherapy or e-therapy, is a controversial matter with a history of doubts related to efficiency, validity and effectiveness.[29][30] In the most common computer-mediated form of counseling, a person e-mails or chats online with a therapist (online counseling). E-therapy may be particularly effective when conducted via video conferencing, as important cues such as facial expression and body language may be conveyed albeit in a less present way. At the same time, there are new applications of technology within psychology and healthcare which utilize augmented and virtual reality components—for example in pain management treatment, PTSD treatment, use of avatars in virtual environments, and self- and clinician-guided computerized cognitive behavior therapies.[31] The voluminous work of Azy Barak[32] (University of Haifa) and a growing number of researchers in the US and UK gives strong evidence to the efficacy (and sometimes superiority) of Internet-facilitated, computer-assisted treatments relative to 'traditional' in-office-only approaches. The UK's National Health Service now recognizes CCBT (computerized cognitive behavioral therapy) as the preferred method of treatment for mild-to-moderate presentations of anxiety and depression.[33] Applications in psychology and medicine also include such innovations as the "Virtual Patient" and other virtual/augmented reality programs which can provide trainees with simulated intake sessions while also providing a means for supplementing clinical supervision.

Many of the current controversies related to e-therapy have arisen in the context of ethical guidelines and considerations.[34] In the U.S. there are special circumstances which impact widespread online services among licensed health/mental health professionals given that each of 50 states has their own licensing and regulatory systems, and for most professions practitioners are limited to practicing 'within their state', with the recipient's location determining 'where the service is received' and spurring ongoing debate about restricted access and antiquity of the license system. But the applications and research expand at a rapid rate, and areas of research, practice, and education within the world of 'psychotherapy' have been exploding – especially with all of the research and experience demonstrating the value of technology/Internet assisted applications.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Lisa Kudrow's Web-based situation comedy Web Therapy, in which Kudrow's unaccredited and unscrupulous character Fiona Wallice conducts therapy sessions using iChat, explores many of the ethical and practical issues raised by the prospect of psychotherapy conducted via Internet video chat.[35]
  • Patricia Arquette recurs as FBI Special Agent in Charge Avery Ryan, a cyberpsychologist, in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. She also headlines the spinoff series CSI: Cyber in the same role.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blascovich, Jim; Bailenson, Jeremy. Infinite reality: avatars, eternal life, new worlds, and the dawn of the virtual revolution (1st ed.). New York: William Morrow. ISBN 0061809500. 
  2. ^ Cheng Cecilia and Li Angel Yee-lam. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. December 2014, 17(12): 755–760. http://dx.doi:10.1089/cyber.2014.0317.
  3. ^ Pempek; Yermolayeva; Calvert. "College students’ social networking experiences on Facebook". Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. 30:2 (2009): 227–238. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2008.12.010. 
  4. ^ a b Grieve; et al. (2013). "Face-to-Face or Facebook? Can social connectedness be derived online?". Computers in Human Behavior. 29: 604–6099. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.11.017. 
  5. ^ Savastio, Rebecca. "Facebook Cause Depression New Study Says". Liberty Voie. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  6. ^ Westerholm, Russell. "Facebook Use Bad For Self-Esteem No Matter Why You Log On". Universityherald. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  7. ^ Alexander H. Jordan1 , Benoît Monin, Carol S. Dweck, Benjamin J. Lovett, Oliver P. John, and James J. Gross (2011). "Misery Has More Company Than People Think: Underestimating the Prevalence of Others' Negative Emotions" (PDF). Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 37 (1): 120–135. doi:10.1177/0146167210390822. 
  8. ^ Copeland, Libby. "The Anti-Social Network". Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  9. ^ Williams, Ray. "Is Facebook Good Or Bad For Your Self-Esteem?". psychology Today. Retrieved 9 June 2014. 
  10. ^ Clayton, Russell B.; Nagurney, Alexander; Smith, Jessica R. (October 2013). "Cheating, Breakup, and Divorce: Is Facebook Use to Blame?". Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 16 (10): 717–720. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0424. 
  11. ^ Rosen, Larry Ph.D. "Always On, All the Time: Are We Suffering From FoMO?". Psychology Today. Rewired: The Psychology of Technology. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  12. ^ Davis, Jenny. "From 'hyper' to 'in': on visibility". Cyborgology. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Addiction to Social Networking Leads to Sleep Deprivation". News Medical. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  15. ^ a b Hackethal, Veronica MD. (December 16, 2014). "Social Media Potentially Addictive, Linked to Substance Abuse". Medscape. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  16. ^ Julia M. Hormes; Brianna Kearns; C. Alix Timko (2014). "Craving Facebook? Behavioral addiction to online social networking and its association with emotion regulation deficits". Addiction. 109 (12): 2079–2088. PMID 25170590. doi:10.1111/add.12713. 
  17. ^ Elish, Jill (March 6, 2014). "Hungry for 'likes': Facebook use linked to eating disorder risk". Florida State University. Retrieved March 23, 2016. 
  18. ^ Rojas, Marcela (June 1, 2014). "Social Media Helps Fuel Some Eating Disorders". USA Today. The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  19. ^ K Harrison; J Cantor (February 7, 2006). "Journal of Communication". 47 (1): 40–67. 
  20. ^ Julien, Chris. "Bourdieu, Social Capital and Online Interaction". Sociology. 49 (2): 356–373. doi:10.1177/0038038514535862. 
  21. ^ Crowell, Grant. "Social Media and ADHD: Turning Distractions into Directions". Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  22. ^ Small, Gary; Vorgan, Gigi (6 October 2009). iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. Collins Living. p. 90. ISBN 9780061340338. 
  23. ^ Jaclyn Cabral (2011). "Is Generation Y Addicted to Social Media?" (PDF). The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications. 2 (1). 
  24. ^ Yen, Ju-Yu (2009). "The Association Between Adult ADHD Symptoms and Internet Addiction Among College Students". CyberPsychology & Behavior. 12 (2): 189. doi:10.1089/cpb.2008.0113. 
  25. ^ Yen, Ju-Yu (2009). "The Association Between Adult ADHD Symptoms and Internet Addiction Among College Students". CyberPsychology & Behavior. 12 (2): 188, 190. doi:10.1089/cpb.2008.0113. 
  26. ^ See: Cyberball
  27. ^ Matthew P. Kassner, M.S.; Eric D. Wesselmann, Ph.D.; Alvin Ty Law, M.S.; Kipling D. Williams, Ph.D. (2012). "Virtually Ostracized: Studying Ostracism in Immersive Virtual Environments". Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. 15 (8): 399–403. PMC 3422048Freely accessible. PMID 22897472. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0113. 
  28. ^ Thumbs up: Facebook might actually be good for you
  29. ^ Ciccarelli, Saundra K.; White, J. Noland. Psychology. ISBN 9780205832576. 
  30. ^ Florez, Jose (2016-10-04). "Need Help? There’s Now Psychotherapy In Cyberspace". Mental Daily. 
  31. ^ See Technology and Psychology 2011
  32. ^ Barak, A., & Suler, J. (2008). Reflections on the psychology and social science of cyberspace. In A. Barak & J. Suler (Eds.), Psychological aspects of cyberspace: Theory, Research, Applications (pp. 1–12). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521873017
  33. ^ See August 2011 presentation by Kate Cavanaugh, author of "Hands on Help"
  34. ^ John Suler's The Psychology of Cyberspace -Psychotherapy in Cyberspace
  35. ^ "Web Therapy - Plasma Pool".