What is CyberPsychology?
Cyberpsychology is the practice and science within the discipline of psychology that focuses on the interaction of current and emerging digital technology and humans, and the impact technology use has on human psychology and behaviour.
It encompasses and merges with almost every other psychology discipline. It differs, however, in that the focus is exclusively on the relationship between digital technology use and human behaviour and psychology across the lifespan. This includes:
- Mobile technology (laptops, smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, headphones and buds…)
- AI, algorithms and software applications (social media, sports tracking apps, music…)
- The Internet of Things and networked devices (smart speakers, smart lights, video doorbells, smart meters…)
- Digital communication and language (emojis, acronyms…)
- Extended reality (virtual reality, augmented reality, the metaverse…)
- Gaming (single-player games, arcade games, multiplayer online games…)
- Remote, hybrid and flexible working
- Cyborgs and driverless vehicles
There are a number of CyberPsychology experts in the field, that focus on different, and very specific, areas. You can find more about them on the Experts page.
The study of technological invention, and the impact this has on both individual and societal behavioural and psychological change, is not a recent phenomenon.
All the tools we currently have available to us in our everyday lives have, at one time or another, been invented to help make life simpler, more fun, productive and enjoyable.
In the process of using these tools, we not only create new uses for the tools that were not originally envisioned by the inventor, but we also evolve how we individually and collectively exist – we adapt how we do life and how we view ourselves, others and the society and world we engage in.
Within the history of humankind, digital technology is a brand new invention.
There are 2 parts to the study of how digital technology and human behaviour and psychology interact.
The 1st is the understanding of how our behaviour and psychology affect our digital technology use. e.g. during the pandemic, many people increased their use of social media and gaming as a way to connect with others and maintain a sense of control during an otherwise uncertain and fearful time.
The 2nd is the understanding of how the use of technology affects our behaviour and psychology. e.g. we know that social media use can affect our emotions and mental health – either positively or negatively and can be a source of bullying, sexting or grooming. But more benign apps, such as weather or music apps, can make you sad because it’s raining on a day you were planning an outdoor activity or happy because you anticipate feeling upbeat listening to your favourite playlist.
There are many examples of reciprocal relationships between digital technology and human behaviour/psychology, but to choose just one: fitness tracker apps.
These apps can be really effective in monitoring current levels of activity and measuring healthy progress against base levels. However, there is always potential for their use to become more of an obsession and lead to harmfully addictive physical training – becoming detrimental to the health of the individual when trying to beat goals while ‘pushing through’ potentially serious injuries. This can be exacerbated when the results of training regimes are automatically shared with others.
Although there are many specialist areas of CyberPsychology, the specific focus here is on how digital technology is used in the workplace to communicate with others and to get work done. The way we work has shifted so rapidly since the early 1990’s that a lot of our mindsets, expectations, biases and norms at work are both stuck in the historic industrial days and evolving into the new digital work and communications landscape – mostly leaving us stuck in the ‘messy middle’ – juggling the norms, expectations and biases of two distinct, and opposing, ‘revolutions’.
During a wartime speech, Winston Churchill pronounced that, “we make buildings and buildings make us“. In 1992, William J Mitchell adapted this to “we make our tools, and tools ours make us“. This is the underlying premonition of the study of CyberPsychology, to understand how digital tools are changing us – for better or worse, and how to optimise the ‘better’ and minimise the ‘worse’.