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Cyberpsychology (also known as Internet psychology, web psychology, or digital psychology) is a developing field that encompasses all psychological phenomena associated with or affected by emerging technology.


Cyberpsychology is the study of the human mind and behavior and how the culture of technology, specifically, virtual reality, and social media affect them.[1] Mainstream research studies 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. While much research in this field is based around Internet usage, cyberpsychology also includes the study of the psychological ramifications of cyborgs, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality.

Media Psychology is an emerging specialty and the Society for Media Psychology and Technology of the American Psychological Association, i.e., APA division 46 includes many cyber-psychologists among its members.[2]

It was around the turn of the millennium that the United States broke the 50 percent mark in Internet use, personal computer use, and cell phone use.[3] The relevance of human–computer interaction (HCI) research within the field of cyberpsychology may become more visible and necessary in understanding the current modern lifestyles of many people.

Social media and cyberpsychological behavior[edit]

Social media use is rapidly growing. What is its impact? That is what cyberpsychology seeks to find out.

Facebook, the leading online social media platform globally,[4] affects users' psychological status in multiple ways. Facebook follows the pattern of one-to-many communication which allows users to share information about their lives, including social activities and photographs.[5] This feature was enhanced in 2012, when Facebook Messenger was implemented to allow users more one-on-one communication merging with the Facebook Chat feature.[6] While Facebook users enjoy the sense of being connected,[7] frequent use of Facebook is threatening users' mental health.[medical citation needed]

Comparison and low self-esteem[edit]

Social media can be deceptive when the user sees only the joyous or entertaining experiences in a friend's life and compares them to his or her own lesser experiences.[8] Underestimating peers negative experiences correlates with greater loneliness and lower overall life satisfaction.[9] Inviting constant comparisons inevitably lowers self-esteem and feelings of self-worth, hence, Facebook and other social media accounts appear to exploit a vulnerability in human nature.[10]


Decreased self-esteem can increase depression.[citation needed] Facebook specifically is criticized[by whom?] for causing depression, especially among teenage users.[citation needed] A study concluded that frequent Facebook use invoked feelings of depression and inadequacy. Social psychologist Ethan Kross, 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.[11] Results suggest that as participants spent more time on Facebook, their feelings of well-being decreased and feelings of depression increased.[12] Another study found that participants in the highest quartile for social media site visits per week were at an increased likelihood of experiencing depression.[13]

Social isolation and ostracism[edit]

Excessive social media usage increases feelings of social isolation, that is, as authentic social interactions were replaced by virtual relationships.[13][14] Additionally, one study found that social rejection or ostracism in an immersive virtual environment has a negative impact on affect (emotion), in the same way that ostracism negatively impacts emotions in real life contexts.[15]

The size of an individual's online social network is closely linked to brain structure associated with social cognition.[16]

Negative relationships[edit]

One survey found that a high level of Facebook usage is associated with negative relationship outcomes (such as divorce and breaking up), and that these negative outcomes are mediated by conflict about high levels of Facebook use.[17] However, this was only true for those who are, or have been, in relatively newer relationships of 3 years or less.

To cope with the uncertainty of a suspected romantic relationship, partner surveillance on Facebook is becoming more popular.[18] However, skepticism between couples may inevitably cause the end of relationship.

It is important to note that these findings do not demonstrate causality: relationship maintenance behaviors, such as surveillance and monitoring, are indicators of current levels of trust within the relationship.[19] This suggests that certain behaviors on social media may be predicting negative outcomes, rather than causing them. When it comes to technology lot of people do not know when something has gone wrong until it actually goes wrong [20]. Further, Facebook can be a tool in strengthening and reaffirming a relationship, as it allows for positive expressions of trust, affection and commitment.[19]

Fear of missing out (FOMO)[edit]

A byproduct of social media use can be the "fear of missing out", or FOMO.[21] This fear develops from 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" if these events are not experienced. There is also the closely related fear of being missed (FOBM), or the fear of invisibility.[22] This fear 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". There is evidence that suggests this type of anxiety is a mediating factor in both increased social media use and decreased self-esteem.[23]

Sleep deprivation[edit]

Social media at use can lead to lower quality sleep.[24]

A study commissioned by Travelodge hotels[25] concluded that Britain has 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 9:45 pm. This time spent social networking may be affecting Britons sleep quota as on average respondents reported they are getting just six hours and 21 minutes sleep per night.[clarification needed] 65% respondents in the same study stated the very last thing they do before nodding off at night is check their mobile phone for text messages. On average Britons will spend around nine minutes every night texting before falling asleep,[clarification needed] and four out of ten adults reported they have a regular text communication with friends in bed every night.[26]

Addictive behavior[edit]

Studies have shown a connection between online social media such as Facebook use to addictive behaviors, emotion regulation, impulse control, and substance abuse.[citation needed] This may be because people are learning to access and process information more rapidly and to shift attention quickly from one task to the next. All this access and vast selection is causing some entertainment seekers to develop the constant need for instant gratification with a loss of patience.[27][better source needed] Results from a survey of university undergraduates showed that almost 10% met criteria for what investigators describe as "disordered social networking use".[28] Respondents who met criteria for "Facebook addiction" also reported statistically significant symptoms similar to the symptoms of addiction, such as tolerance (increased Facebook use over time), withdrawal (irritability when unable to access Facebook), and cravings to access the site. "Our findings suggest that there may be shared mechanisms underlying both substance and behavioral addictions," Hormes added.[29]

The prevalence of internet addiction varies considerably between countries and is inversely related to quality of life.[30]

Eating disorders[edit]

One study found that the more time teenage girls spend on Facebook, the higher their risk of developing negative body images and eating disorders.[citation needed] Several other studies have also found a correlation between social media use and disordered eating.[31][32][33]

In women college students, social media use predicts disordered-eating symptomatology and other related variables (such as drive for thinness and body dissatisfaction).[33] For men, media use predicted endorsement of personal thinness and dieting.[33]

Social media and ADHD[edit]

There is an emerging body of research that suggests that internet addiction and unhealthy social media activity may be more prevalent in ADHD individuals.[34] Male college students are more likely than women college students to be screened positively for adult ADHD; however, the overall association between Internet addiction and attention deficit is more significant in females.[35]

Clinical psychologist Michelle Frank 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. The unique challenges that result are prime vulnerabilities to the common pitfalls of technology use."[34]

Although many factors contribute to ADHD (including genes, teratogens, parenting styles, etc.) a sedentary lifestyle centered on television, computer games, and mobile devices may increase the risk for ADHD.[medical citation needed] In the view of Dr. Robert Melillo, founder of the Brain Balance Program, "When kids play computer games, their minds are processing information in a much different way than kids who are, say, running around on a playground... Recent studies have shown that playing computer games only builds very short-term attention that needs to be rewarded frequently."[36][clarification needed]

Positive correlates of social media use[edit]

A number of positive psychological outcomes are related to Facebook use. People can derive a sense of social connectedness and belongingness in the online environment.[7][37] Importantly, this online social connectedness was associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety, and greater levels of subjective well-being.

Messaging can also be used to express trust, affection and commitment, thus strengthening personal relationships.[19]

Social media and memes[edit]

Internet users sometimes relate to one another through seemingly ridiculous images and text: specifically, internet memes. Creating and using internet memes can help people to interact successfully with other people online and to build a shared experience.[38][39] While internet memes can appear to be simple pop culture references, they can also allow a glimpse into the formation of culture and language.[38]

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.[40][page needed] The first instance of this practice did not include interaction with a human, but rather a program called ELIZA, which was designed by Joseph Weizenbaum to answer questions and concerns with basic Rogerian responses.[41] ELIZA proved to be so effective that many people either mistook the program for human, or became emotionally attached to it.[42]

In today's most common computer-mediated form of counseling,[citation needed] a person e-mails or chats online with a therapist (online counseling). E-therapy may be particularly effective when conducted via video conferencing,[citation needed] as important cues such as facial expression and body language may be conveyed. 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.[43] The voluminous work of Azy Barak[44] (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.[45] 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 controversies related to e-therapy have arisen in the context of ethical guidelines and considerations.[46]

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.[47]
  • 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.[48]
  • Forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan and Special Agent Seeley Booth in Fox Network's hit television series, Bones, practice cyberpsychology by collecting information from suspects' social media accounts to analyze personality, communications, and possible motives to help apprehend the criminal.[49]
  • Sketch comedy group Studio C pokes fun at different online personalities created by social media and how social media posting impacts dating relationships in sketches entitled "Facebook Friends Song" and "Don't Change Your Facebook Status".[50]

See also[edit]


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  37. ^ Thumbs up: Facebook might actually be good for you
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  43. ^ See Technology and Psychology 2011
  44. ^ 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
  45. ^ See August 2011 presentation by Kate Cavanaugh, author of "Hands on Help"
  46. ^ John Suler's The Psychology of Cyberspace -Psychotherapy in Cyberspace Archived 2008-02-06 at the Wayback Machine
  47. ^ "Web Therapy - Plasma Pool". Archived from the original on 2011-10-10. Retrieved 2011-10-02.
  48. ^ CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Laurence Fishburne, Marg Helgenberger, George Eads, retrieved 2017-12-06{{citation}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  49. ^ Bones, Emily Deschanel, David Boreanaz, Michaela Conlin, retrieved 2017-12-06{{citation}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  50. ^ "Studio C - BYUtv". BYUtv. Retrieved 2017-12-06.