Cyberpsychology: Defining the Field

Defining the transdisciplinary nature of cyberpsychology in a new era.

Posted Nov 29, 2020

We have entered a new era in the field of psychology. Approximately 58% of the world’s 7 billion people use the internet (Clement, 2019). The creation and sharing of information and ideas through social media has become a primary form of communication and information exchange (Brossard & Scheufele, 2013; Smith & Anderson, 2018).

The combination of new technologies and “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001), that is, those who have grown up using the internet, computers, and mobile devices, is transforming the ways in which we learn, communicate, and socialize in the world (Institute for Information Technologies in Education, 2011). Social interactions, communication, and patterns of behavior in almost every sphere of life have been transformed. Electronic messaging has become the medium of choice for business and personal communication (Srivastava, 2005). Greater convenience and extended information access related to “always-on” connectivity and mobility have led to technology entering the private spheres of human lives. Users have a “technological intimacy” with many devices, carrying and using them wherever they go. Traditional hierarchical structures have flattened, accessibility to political institutions has been enhanced, and the ability to build personal and professional networks has surged. The use of mobile devices alone has decentralized communication networks and has the potential to facilitate groups of unrelated people at a moment’s notice (Rheingold, 2002; Srivastava, 2005). The speed and flow of information online has enabled information to be transferred on a mass global scale, galvanizing social movements such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and #MeToo. In short, the ways in which we consume information and communicate with others both locally and globally have fundamentally changed.

With the growth of new technologies and an increasingly interconnected world, the field of cyberpsychology has emerged as a unique discipline. Defined as the discipline of understanding the psychological processes related to, and underlying, all aspects and features of technologically interconnected human behavior (Atrill-Smith et al., 2019), cyberpsychology includes multiple and intersecting disciplines such as human-computer interaction, computer science, engineering, and psychology.

Advances in global communication and technologies, social media and networking sites, and technological intimacy created through developments such as the iPhone have created shifts in perspectives and behaviors. Moreover, there is expanded recognition of cyberpsychology through professional associations, such as the American Psychological Association (APA), as well as via new journals, conferences, and emerging academic programs. As such, the term cyberpsychology has come to encompass diverse areas of scholarship and application which are viewed through the lens of psychology and the behavioral sciences. The transdisciplinary nature of cyberpsychology draws on a range of theoretical perspectives and continues to evolve. Moreover, the applications of cyberpsychology to a myriad of areas such as education, healthcare, the workforce, security, and psychological practice are far-reaching.

Five major areas that are relevant to the field of cyberpsychology include (a) online behavior and personality; (b) social media use and psychological functioning; (c) games and gaming; (d) telepsychology; and (e) virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), and applications. These five areas have emerged from my review of over 400 textbooks, including texts focused specifically on psychology and cyber, and journal articles that examined the relationship between technology and human behavior through the lens of psychology, as well as a thematic analysis of topics presented during previous APA Technology, Mind, and Society Conferences, first convened in 2018. The five areas, which have primarily attended to personality variables, perceptual processes, emotional functioning, and behavioral responses, have emerged as most prominent in the cyberpsychology literature.

Upcoming blog posts will provide summary reviews of these areas. While not exhaustive, such reviews provide a potential framework from which to further elucidate the field of cyberpsychology through an established understanding of past and present work as well as an identification of areas in need of further exploration.

References

Clement, J. (2019). Worldwide digital population as of october 2019. https://www.statista.com/statistics/617136/digital-population-worldwide/#:˜:targetText=How%20many%20people%20use%20the,in%20terms%20of%20internet%20users

Brossard, D., & Scheufele, D. A. (2013). Social science. Science, new media, and the public. Science, 339(6115), 40–41. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1232329

Smith, A., & Anderson, M. (2018). Social media use 2018: Demographics and statistics. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1108/10748120110424816

Digital natives: How do they learn? How to teach them? (2011). https://iite.unesco.org/files/policy_briefs/pdf/en/digital_natives.pdf

Srivastava, L. (2005). Mobile phones and the evolution of social behaviour. Behaviour & Information Technology, 24(2), 111–129. https://doi.org/10.1080/01449290512331321910

Rheingold, H. (2002). Smart mobs. Demos.

Atrill-Smith, A., Fullwood, C., Keep, M., & Kuss, D. J. (Eds.). (2019). The oxford handbook of cyberpsychology. Oxford Univeristy Press.