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Defining the emerging field of cyberpsychology

By Cooper Nelson

At a glance

  • Cyberpsychology is a branch of psychology that studies how humans interact with and develop in tandem with technology.
  • Online behavior, social media use and telepsychology are a few areas of interest in the field of cyberpsychology.
  • Cyberpsychology has applications in psychological research, consulting, education and more.
  • UOPX offers degree programs in psychology at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. Learn more!

The growing prevalence of technology in modern life is impacting how we think and how we interact with each other in a wide variety of ways. These changes can be positive and negative in different contexts. 

As such, it’s important to understand these impacts and respond to them accordingly. This need to understand the effects of technology on our minds and behavior has prompted the development of the field of cyberpsychology. 

What is cyberpsychology?

Cyberpsychology is a branch of psychology that studies how humans interact with and develop in tandem with technology. The rate at which technology is evolving makes the development and study of cyberpsychology particularly complex and changeable. Due in part to this complexity, many smaller focus areas of cyberpsychology have emerged. 

 

Major areas of cyberpsychology

Five of the most notable areas of cyberpsychology pertain to:

  • Online behavior and personality
  • Social media use and psychological functioning
  • Video games
  • Telepsychology
  • Virtual reality and artificial intelligence

These areas of interest touch on some of the ways that technology most significantly affects us as individuals and our culture as a whole. As technology develops, the concerns of these focus areas may shift, and more pertinent areas of interest may emerge. By studying a wide range of cyberpsychology niches, we can better understand our relationship with technology and its effects on mental functioning and well-being. 

Online behavior and personality

This area of cyberpsychology seeks to address how people behave and interact online and on social networking sites in comparison to face-to-face interactions and behavior. For example, some scholars have proposed that people may be more likely to behave more aggressively online than they do face-to-face, as online interactions provide a level of anonymity. 

This area of cyberpsychology is important to explore as more and more of our interactions take place online, especially when considering the rise of remote work and education. Additionally, understanding the difference between our offline and online personalities can provide insights into personal development, behavior and mental health.

 

Social networking

Social networking sites, more commonly referred to as social media, have been a critical facet of everyday life. Some reports state that the average American spent over 1,300 hours online in 2020. Different communities develop unique dynamics, and the online communities found on social networking sites are no exception to this. 

Therefore, because we are spending so much time frequenting online communities, it’s important to understand their dynamics, how these dynamics are evolving and how it’s affecting our social behavior. 

Moreover, social media is increasingly being used to organize for and discuss important causes and to prompt action. It has now become not only commonplace for world leaders to communicate with the populace through social media but it’s also expected. 

As such, with a closer look at social networking through a psychological lens, we can better understand burgeoning dynamics in large online communities, as well as individual effects, such as social media addiction.  

Video games 

Video games are a popular pastime, with approximately 3.2 billion gamers worldwide. Scientific communities have begun documenting the positive and negative effects of playing video games. These effects can range from improved problem-solving skills and reaction time to sleep disruption and social isolation. 

However, while video games are sometimes perceived as a solitary activity, this isn’t necessarily the case. Many games offer cooperative and PvP (player versus player) options that allow players to interact with each other. With the growth of online communities, some gamers may take the opportunity to interact with massive online communities of people with similar interests. 

The psychological effects of this pastime are an ongoing area of research and focus.

 

Telepsychology

Telepsychology refers to the burgeoning practice of providing psychological services online. This option allows individuals and their providers to communicate and work together over a digital platform, such as a videoconferencing platform or a direct messaging application. 

Telepsychology has many versions, with some mirroring a traditional office visit with a therapist, and others offering services such as emergency support as needed. 

In many ways telepsychology is similar to traditional psychological services, but unique dynamics and issues can arise. Notably, there are concerns about privacy and the effects of social distance. On the other hand, these resources offer a wide array of benefits, such as affordability and accessibility.

Virtual reality and artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a type of technology that seeks to fabricate humanlike intelligence by processing large amounts of data to create advanced algorithms. Virtual reality (VR) refers to areas, structures and interactions that mirror lifelike actions and concepts but are digitally fabricated. 

These assets are becoming increasingly popular in both recreational and professional contexts. We are just beginning to learn about how interaction with VR or AI could affect the minds of users. Meanwhile, many professionals, psychologists included, are increasingly using AI and VR to model and analyze various situations and interactions.

Cyberpsychology careers

Professionals can fill several roles in the field of cyberpsychology, which most notably include:

  • Research: Professionals can investigate areas of interest and conduct studies related to cyberpsychology. Their findings may be published as articles in science and research journals. 
  • Therapy: Therapists may offer services related to cyberpsychology, such as recovery from cyberbullying. 
  • Consultation: Consulting psychologists who work within the field of cyberpsychology can use their expertise to inform a wide variety of efforts, such as app development and school curriculum development.
  • Education: Professionals with credentials related to cyberpsychology can apply their expertise in an educational capacity, such as school counseling, public awareness efforts or remote education. 

Available programs and degrees related to cyberpsychology are accordingly becoming increasingly common. 

Ethics in cyberpsychology

As with any field of psychology, ethics in cyberpsychology are complex and important to adhere to for the sake of safety, wellness and regulation compliance. Cyberpsychology, however, offers some unique ethical obstacles compared to other fields of psychology, such as issues relating to data security and the potential for patient exposure to unsafe online environments. 

Because of these concerns, it’s sometimes valuable for cyberpsychology professionals to also seek credentials in fields such as data management to better protect their clients.

 

Pursuing an education in cyberpsychology

As mentioned, programs that provide training related cyberpsychology are becoming more commonplace. These specialized psychology programs are even offered at postgraduate levels.

Additionally, the educational requirements for different types of cyberpsychology professionals can vary widely. For example, a researcher needs very different credentials from a school counselor. As such, if you’re interested in this field, it’s important to do preliminary research about available programs that address this branch of psychology. 

To enter this field, start off by looking into bachelor’s and master’s programs in psychology that cover cyberpsychology or offer classes that dive into some of these important elements, like the impacts of social networking sites and communication in the digital age. Different fields require different degree levels. For example, consultants may typically need a bachelor’s degree, while a counselor or therapist will typically have a master’s degree. Researchers who want to have their studies published in professional journals will most likely need a doctoral degree. Certifications may also be required for licensure. 

If you’re interested in discovering where technology meets psychology, visit phoenix.edu to learn more about online psychology degree offerings. University of Phoenix offers a Bachelor of Science in Applied Psychology with a concentration in Media and Technology, for which students learn how to apply psychological theories to influence healthy relationships with technology. There are also several courses that highlight cyberpsychology concepts.

 

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