Many things – our relationships with family and friends, schoolwork or career, our thoughts and emotions, and our behavior – govern our daily lives. As the world in which we live continues to become ever more connected, the ways in which we conduct our daily lives, including the activities in which we choose to participate, continues to change. Even leisure activities are changing, as reading books, which used to involve holding an actual printed book, is now often undertaken by reading a digital book. Rather than communicating in person, many interpersonal communications take place via Facebook or video chats. Even the ways in which we learn have changed, with education becoming increasingly dependent on modern technology to disseminate information.
This reliance on technology has changed the ways in which we think and behave in the modern world. Many people are constantly “plugged-in,” whether that be via their mobile phone, the Internet, social media apps, or television. But how do our interactions with technology impact our thoughts and behavior? What’s more, how has technology changed the manner in which we engage with other people in terms of communication, expressing feelings, building relationships, and the like? These are questions that cyberpsychologists investigate on a daily basis.
What is Cyberpsychology?
Cyberpsychology (also known as Internet psychology or web psychology) is a new and emerging field that investigates how technology such as computers and the Internet impact the manner in which people think and behave on both the individual and group levels. It is a mostly research-based field, with cyberpsychologists commonly investigating online personality development, online relationships, technology-related addictions, and transference to computers.
However, cyberpsychology is not just limited to researching how technology changes the manner in which humans interact and communicate. It is also concerned with how humans and technology interact with one another. Scientific advances like virtual reality and artificial intelligence are also topics of research for cyberpsychologists, who seek to develop a clearer understanding of how advances in technology will continue to change human cognition, communication, and behavior.
What Does a Cyberpsychologist Do?
A primary task of cyberpsychologists is to conduct research regarding human-machine interaction. Part of cyberpsychology research centers around how technology has changed human social activity. For example, a cyberpsychologist would be interested in investigating how social media sites like Facebook and Instagram have changed our conception of being connected to others. Likewise, research might be conducted to determine how social media influences the development of a person’s self-concept and personal identity. Cyberbullying is a very hot topic of discussion and research in the cyberpsychology community as well.
Cyberpsychologists are also interested in harnessing the power of technology to improve the manner in which people learn. For example, a cyberpsychologist might develop a study in which they explore how virtual learning techniques can improve a student’s understanding of a specific concept in math, science, or another primary subject. Furthermore, the role of virtual learning in promoting the acquisition of new skills, like learning a new language, could be examined as well.
Related: Behavioral Psychologist Career
Another area of research that is popular for cyberpsychologists is technology addiction. As social media, mobile phones, and the Internet have become increasingly integral parts of our daily lives, some people have developed an unhealthy relationship with these technologies. Cyberpsychologists seek to understand the mechanisms that underlie addiction to technology, as well as develop potential treatments for those addictions.
A growing area of work for cyberpsychologists is in a consultative capacity with companies that develop technologies. For example, video game makers might employ cyberpsychologists to provide insights into game developments that will keep players engaged. Issues like the types of rewards players get for completing a task or achieving a certain level in the game, the manner in which players can communicate with one another, and the simple matter of providing players with an adequate challenge are all areas in which a cyberpsychologist might offer their insights and expertise.
Some cyberpsychologists also engage in therapy with clients. Cyberpsychology in this context is on the cutting-edge of therapeutic development, as highly advanced tools like virtual reality are often paired with traditional psychological techniques. For example, a cyberpsychologist might use a virtual reality environment to treat specific conditions like phobias. A client that suffers from a fear of heights might be placed in a virtual world in which they are systematically desensitized to ever-increasing elevations. Similarly, a cyberpsychologist could employ flooding techniques to immerse a client with a social phobia in a virtual world in which they must “interact” with dozens of virtual people. These virtual reality techniques have proved to be an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well.
Cyberpsychologists may also engage in online therapy by using the Internet. This type of therapy is still relatively uncommon, although its use in providing people in rural or isolated areas with mental health care is gaining traction. Providing therapy via the Internet usually involves video chatting between the psychologist and his or her client via tools like Skype or FaceTime. Privacy concerns aside (neither of these technologies is guaranteed to be secure), being able to communicate with and actually see the client helps cyberpsychologists pick up on the more nuanced behaviors – like nonverbal communication – that aid them in making informed judgments about the client’s current state. Typically, online therapy is reserved for clients that are high functioning and whose mental health issues are relatively subtle. This type of cyberpsychology would not be appropriate for someone suffering from a severe condition like schizophrenia.
Why is Cyberpsychology Important?
The field of cyberpsychology offers many valuable benefits, both to the field of psychology and to humanity as a whole.
Provides Care to Distant Locations – As mentioned above, online therapy has emerged thanks to the research and dedicated efforts of cyberpsychologists. Now, individuals in need of mental health care can receive it via the Internet, even if they are in the most remote locations in the world.
Provides Cutting-Edge Care for Many Conditions – Harnessing the power of technology has given cyberpsychologists many avenues for providing cutting-edge care to their clients. Virtual reality environments and artificial intelligence can be used to care for a host of common psychological conditions, from PTSD to anxiety to phobias.
Informs the Public About Developing Technological Dangers – Twenty years ago, cyberbullying wasn’t even part of the conversation. Today, it is one of the most discussed aspects of adolescence. Cyberpsychologists undertake valuable research into technology-related issues such as this and help inform the public about how to avoid the pitfalls and dangers of emerging technologies.
Works to Improve Human-Technology Interaction – Another important role of cyberpsychology is to help companies that develop technologies to do so in a manner that enhances human behavior, rather than detract from it. Facilitating communication, improving social interactions, and streamlining the way we work and learn are but a few ways that cyberpsychology can help make technology more valuable and less detrimental to our daily lives.
What are the Career Opportunities for Cyberpsychologists?
There are numerous fields in which cyberpsychologists can be employed. Among the most common are:
Research – The vast majority of cyberpsychologists are employed in the research sector. They might work for a private research firm, conducting experiments and studies on highly specific topics within the field, such as Internet addiction. Or they might work for public or government institutions in which the type of research conducted is much more broad in scope, studying everything from socialization online to improving technology design to facilitate more productive work environments.
Therapy – Some cyberpsychologists utilize their skills to develop a private practice. Some self-employed cyberpsychologists offer therapy to patients in one-on-one and small group settings while others work with geographically distant clients by using technologies like computers and the Internet to conduct virtual therapy sessions.
Consultation – Other psychologists in this field act as consultants to businesses and industries whose products or services could benefit from the expertise of someone that studies human-technology interaction. For example, a cyberpsychologist might work with a mobile phone app developer to design an app that gives users tools to easily report abusive situations, like cyberbullying.
Education – Cyberpsychologists can also be employed in the academic sector. Employment opportunities usually revolve around teaching and conducting research at colleges or universities, although some public or private school districts may have an interest in employing an expert in human-technology interaction. A cyberpsychologist employed at a secondary school, for example, may develop learning tools and activities that teach children about how to use technology for their benefit and do so in a safe and appropriate manner.
What Careers are Similar to Cyberpsychology?
Although cyberpsychology is a new and highly unique discipline within the field of psychology, its basis can be found in several other more traditional sub-fields. As a result, cyberpsychology shares some characteristics with the following areas:
Research Psychology – Psychologists in this field use empirical methods to explore human behavior, including how humans feel, act, learn, and think. Research psychologists also explore physical abnormalities that impact behavior, such as damage to specific areas of the brain and how that damage influences thought and behavior. Cyberpsychologists use similar empirical methods to explore human behavior in the context of a relationship with technology.
Clinical Psychology – Clinical psychologists work with clients with behavioral, emotional, or mental disorders to facilitate positive behavioral change. A therapeutic relationship is developed, and psychologists work with clients to acquire skills, overcome fears, become aware of thought patterns, and the like. Some cyberpsychologists engage in clinical practices such as these, most often using modern technology to bring about behavioral change.
Social Psychology – Because cyberpsychology deals so much with the social interactions people have via technologies like social media, it is closely related to the field of social psychology. Social psychologists are interested in learning more about how humans interact with and learn from one another, both in terms of one-on-one interactions and in small or large group settings. For example, a social psychologist would explore the relationship between an individual’s behavior and the influences exerted upon that individual by his or her peer group.