Cyberpsychology – what is it?

Introduction

Cyberpsychology is the study of psychological matters within modern technology. There are many reasons as to why this area can be useful for psychologists and tech enthusiasts alike. Social media, virtual reality, online health and many other areas of interest are commonly debated around the concept.

To strip away the depth and complexity around technology, we are left with basic ‘human-computer’ interaction. The ways in which we interact with computers have to be simple enough for humans to understand. But also need enough diversity to perform a wide variety of tasks and functions. Cyberpsychology accurately encompasses this notion, and studies the nature of our behaviour to and from computers in order to assess performance, efficiency and capabilities of the device and the individual controlling it.

With further knowledge of our devices, we can not only improve the system by defining hardware, software, or teaching requirements, but we can also improve our ability to regulate these problems and create much more efficiency and productivity within different environments.

What makes cyberpsychology stand out from other areas of technology research, is the vast array of applications that this can represent in today’s culture. We rely on so many technological elements such as social media, gaming, artificial intelligence, robotics and technology for health, which are often misunderstood or taken for granted. These facets of future tech are rapidly developing our world and it is essential that not only do we learn how to adapt to them, but metricise them and enable more accuracy of our understandings with the products we make and use.

Let’s take a look at an example, virtual reality (VR).

Of course, for most people VR is not a common household activity, however, in the future we are likely to see many more opportunities to integrate this tech into our lives for many different reasons. The most apparent use is for entertainment, we have even witnessed the OCULUS RIFT and several similar VR headsets that create a fascinating new dynamic to gaming. Although these devices tend to be expensive, they are being used more and more across the world for the value they provide, and many new games and developers are working with VR to enable a larger depth of experience.

Other applications may include health, training and education. Flight simulators have been around in technology for over 60 years now, and are showing incredibly accurate features in modern tech such as physics and motion, realistic graphics, and intelligent AI. These all combine together to provide an experience very similar to flying a real plane, and often experience with these simulators can help enable careers in aviation. Likewise, medical professionals are able to use VR to replicate scenarios of operations, transplants and surgery.

But how does cyberpsychology help with this technology?

Despite the amazing new possibilities to look forward to with VR, cyberpsychology will have to assess the implications of this tech before it surfaces to the public. This concerns ethical deliberations, health issues and the direct benefits provided by the product. VR headsets such as the ones used for gaming/media are often prone to causing motion sickness/nausea, repetitive strain injury, collision with the environment, eye strain, and in rare cases even blackouts or seizures.

Fortunately for the gaming scene, these issues happen very rarely and for the most part can be avoided. If we relate back to the Human-computer Interaction model, we can accurately assess where these problems may occur, and develop effective solutions to improve the experience of the product. In this case, VR headsets often come with clear warnings which notify the user of the potential dangers, dialogue is often provided in the setup, and more modern versions of VR headsets are using advanced ergonomics such as panoramic lenses to help eliminate the symptoms of motion sickness entirely.

Now within training and education there are often more serious concerns. If surgeons are able to train effectively on virtual patients, then how likely does that mean they will be able to perform well enough in their job to work with real patients? This same problem applies for flight simulation, and often there will still be compulsory measures to attend before the individual can use their skills in real life. This barrier between virtual reality and real life is narrowing every day, and eventually it is likely the barrier will become so narrow that these methods will be perfectly acceptable in terms of education or qualifications to succeed in the job, however, we are still just off that mark and we have to make adaptations to enable a safe transition from one virtual environment to the next.

Summary

In summary with more accuracy in testing and research, we can now see the proficiencies of these technologies, and the benefits they may provide. We can also use cyberpsychology to help understand our concerns, challenges and improvements necessary to not only allow a better user experience, but attend to the safety and ethical complications that these devices present. Understanding the depth of Human-computer Interaction will help accelerate our technological advancements and ensure the correct procedure can be maintained towards a better and brighter future for our technology.

Jack Reid  – Cyberpsychologist