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Cyberpsychology: What is it? Why I love it and why you would love it too


Dr Lisa Orchard, Senior Lecturer in Psychology blogs about Cyberpsychology during this week's Cyber Fringe Festival.

“So, what do you do?” Such a simple question, but it’s a running joke that if you tell someone you’re a psychologist, you’ll be met with a standard reply of “Can you read my mind?” Telling someone that I specialise in Cyberpsychology however, tends to lead to a brief moment of silence, quickly followed by a puzzled expression, while they try to work out whether or not I’m a villain from Dr Who. It’s not a term that we see used widely. Indeed, Cyberpsychology only became an official section of the British Psychological Society in 2018. Yet, one of my favourite things about Cyberpsychology is that everyone seems to have an innate curiosity about the topic even without knowing that the topic exists.  

Technology has seemingly taken over every aspect of our lives. Within moments of waking up we are drawn to our phones, checking online news and social media. The commute to work may be planned and paid for via a time-saving app. Online shopping has taken over the high street. Television has been replaced by seemingly unlimited streaming services. Families now rely on Zoom catch ups and WhatsApp to stay connected and updated on each other’s lives. We even have cameras on our doorbells that we can tap into to check all is okay. Each new technology has brought with it a flurry of excitement, but also inevitably throws up questions and concerns. From anxieties over whether we’re becoming too reliant on our phones, to moral panics on whether kids are playing video games too much - technology touches on all of our lives, for better and for worse!   

Cyberpsychology aims to understand the way we interact with these different technologies and whether they change us a consequence of using them. It takes the curiosities of our digital behaviours and tries to provide an understanding for why we are drawn to technology (or indeed why some people actively avoid technologies), how we make use of technological features available to us, and what impact such technological decisions may have. Cyberpsychology originated from research trying to understand how we present ourselves on the Internet, and whether this differed to our offline ‘real life’ selves. However, as we start to rely more on online devices, this distinction is not so clear anymore. Technology is no longer an activity that we can start and stop, and we need to consider the wider implications of each technological device and the individual challenges they bring. This is what makes Cyberpsychology so fascinating. We have a never-ending carousel of questions to be asked and each is answered with more questions.  

So, if you were to ask me “What is Cyberpsychology?” I apologise in advance if I take up hours of your time explaining my passion for the subject, or end up throwing more questions back at you. Why do we believe fake news and how can we stop it? Why do we have an urge to copy pointless TikTok dances and share them with the world? How do we use Alexa to manage our lives, and what impact will this have in the long run? Should I stop my child playing Roblox? Cyberpsychology doesn’t always know the answers, but it is both fascinating and challenging working towards discovering those answers! I love being asked what I do. I get so carried away talking about Cyberpsychology, and there is such a joy in seeing people’s enthusiasm for the topic when they realise it investigates many of the questions they had already been asking.

The technology industry is ever-expanding and cyberpsychology is instrumental to making our interactions with technology, safer, more convenient and more fun. An understanding of technology use is fundamental to future cyber developments. I’m excited to see Cyberpsychology continue to grow and look forward to my next conversation about how technology is affecting your life.     

To find out more about our MSc Cyberpsychology course click here.  

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