Laptop screen displaying people meeting on a video conferencing call
Digital and technology

Putting the 'cyber' in Psychology

The following blog post on the developing importance of Cyberpsychology as a distinct sub-discipline - what it is and how you can get involved - has been co-authored by Dr Linda Kaye (Edge Hill University) and Dr Chris Fullwood (University of Wolverhampton).

09 December 2016

By Cyberpsychology Section

It seems that you can’t pick up a newspaper these days without being confronted by stories about the dangers of cyber-crime, cyber-attacks, and cyber-bullying.

Webcam blackmail cases have doubled, police say

Risk of ‘fake news’ spurs angst in Internet age

Massive cyber-attack grinds Liberia’s Internet to a halt

As a result the word ‘cyber’ often conjures up a host of negative connotations about all the things that are scary and disturbing about the Internet.

In a world where so many of our everyday behaviours occur online (e.g., banking, shopping, connecting with friends and family), it is not surprising that we are becoming increasingly concerned about how living in a technological age affects us, as individuals and as a society.

A recent report in The Conversation (How to save the Internet of Things from cyber-attacks with psychology) highlighted the different ways in which psychological principles such as “nudge theory”, can prompt behaviour change when using technology.

Additionally, in recent weeks there has been much controversy regarding the role of social media in the US Elections, including the argument that the proliferation of fake news on these sites helped to influence Donald Trump’s eventual victory.

Clearly our engagement in the extensive range of online platforms which are available to us raises ongoing questions about the psychological impact these have on human thought and behaviour.

Does the Internet make us behave more anti-socially? Does being online open us up to becoming victims of crime? Does spending too much time in the online world lead to addictive tendencies and social isolation?

These are the types of questions which cyberpsychologists have begun to explore.

What is Cyberpsychology?

Cyberpsychology is a sub-discipline of psychology which focuses on:

the psychological processes, motivations, intentions and behavioural outcomes, and effects on both our online and offline worlds, associated with any form of technology

(Attrill, 2016)       

The focus isn’t upon human interaction with devices themselves (as is more the case for human-computer interaction research), but instead, the affordances which technologies may provide.

This often involves a focus on aspects of our Internet activities, such as social networking, digital gaming, and online shopping, which may be undertaken on a range of different platforms (e.g., mobile devices, gaming consoles).

In recent years cyberpsychologists have focussed their efforts on attempting to answer some of the most substantial questions about our online experiences, including:

  • How are they distinct from, or interact with, our offline ones (e.g., are our online friendships equivalent to real-world ones)?
  • How do our online behaviours correspond to psychological constructs?
  • What role do our online experiences play in our social interactions?

And growing interest in the role of these experiences in other areas of research (e.g., cyberbullying as a form of aggression, how emojis function in communication, and even what your choice of Smartphone says about you) suggests that cyberpsychological insights are becoming more and more relevant for the further development of psychology in general.

All these factors, and more, have convinced us of the importance of developing a distinct BPS Cyberpsychology Section.

Why is this important?

Because the Society represents the ever-changing nature of our discipline, the formation of a BPS Cyberpsychology Section can be viewed as necessary not only to aid our conceptual understanding within contemporary systems, but also to provide numerous practical insights into the ways we can make better use of online data.

For example, we suggest that one aspect of the Cyberpsychology Section’s remit will be to contribute to the Society’s CPD provision, in which we can offer expertise in a number of core areas such as:

  • Utilising digital methodologies in psychological research
  • Using online interactions and online meta-data as behavioural data
  • Using digital technologies as tools for behaviour change
  • Ethical Guidelines for using online behavioural data
  • Internet Safety for Practitioners
  • Keeping Children Safe Online
  • Parents’ and Teachers’ Guides to Online Privacy
  • Employers’ Guide to Cyberbullying in the Workplace

These are just a few of the areas we feel would benefit the Society, particularly by providing contemporary insights into our evolving discipline and by helping to advance our understanding of how to best implement research using novel research methodologies.

How you can contribute

We are currently seeking support for the formation of a Cyberpsychology Section.

If you are a BPS Member, you can now register your support for our Section.

We also have an active social media presence (as one would expect!) designed to keep you up to date on the news and events relevant to our remit:

Want to know more?

If you wish to know more about us, the details of the Cyberpsychology Section Formative Group are as follows:

Read more on these topics