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mental-health

Cyberpsychology: A New Frontier for Technology & Psychology

21 days ago by Andrea Amato
mental-health

As we commemorate world mental health day occurring on October 10th this year, we consider the novel therapeutic approaches uncovered by empirical evidence and designs that fosters positive wellbeing. This article will present the relationship held between technology and psychology, often referred to as cyberpsychology or digital psychology, where current technological products are used as therapeutic instruments.

Cyberpsychology is an interdisciplinary field that adopts principles from artificial intelligence (AI), engineering, among others. Much of available research is dedicated to virtual reality and social media, including individual online identities, relationships, and so forth. Whilst it is an emerging discipline in itself, it is quickly becoming popularised as we navigate the internet to fulfil many of our behavioural needs.

Whilst a lot of research focuses on how we use the internet as a means of fulfilment, more studies are emerging committed to how we can use certain technologies to improve mental health conditions. Contrarily, we are also actively exploring how technology can prove detrimental to our mental health—though further refinements are needed in this space—which will improve alongside technological advancements.

If there’s one thing we are certain of is how technology can alter our perceptions toward the natural world. We’re no longer discovering the natural environment but a digital one as well, where the latter serves its own implications on our behaviour. Cyberpsychology, like many emerging disciplines, attests to novel IT jobs in Malta and abroad that combines principles of diverse existing fields.

 

Social media & virtual reality: The focus of present research

As social media networks such as Facebook and Instagram generate billions of users annually, these platforms have been the scope of research in understanding their effects on our mental health. Facebook, for example, is the largest social media channel thus far, boasting its ability to connect individuals from across the globe. Whilst this is a feature frequently enjoyed by users, the darker side of the platform leaves room for issues relating to self-esteem, depression, loneliness, among others. Social media continues to be a large focus in research and more recently works to support technical regulation.

Where social media platforms allow researchers plenty of areas to explore, virtual reality is an instrument both used for research and therapeutic purposes. In research, it’s largely attributed to studying human cognition and behaviour. As researchers often require experimental designs that necessitates a controlled environment, virtual reality allows authors the space to explore hypotheses. More recently, virtual reality is used to understand human social interaction and social cognition, where individuals digitally interact with computers or people in a constructed setting. For software developer jobs and similar IT disciplines, this means novel approaches toward designing digital products.

 

New forms of treatment

Technology has opened incredible means for researchers to gather data in support of informing mental health initiatives. Through mediums such as mobile applications, technology has helped make mental health services more accessible, a means to monitor progress, and provide educative resources on mental health generally. 

Further contributions from technology and IT jobs generally have changed psychology in the following ways:

  • Treatment: for some individuals, in-person treatment isn’t available. They may require urgent matters responded to, necessitating the use of technology to reduce communication barriers between client and therapist.

  • Online therapy: following the above, the dominant use of video conferencing software has surfaced a new form of therapy that is completely based online. Whilst this form of therapy can assist mental health accessibility, there is much more research to be done in its effectivity. This is because we observe human behaviour differently on a digital medium.

  • Bountiful educative material: technology has provided great space in sourcing reputable resources that support mental health and wellbeing. In the forms of websites and mobile applications, individuals can access support and guidance readily online. Whilst many of these can be unregulated, users are encouraged to seek online material cautiously. Nevertheless, approaches such as internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy (ICBT) has thus far proven to be effective, supporting the use of reliable online material.

In terms of use cases, virtual reality and AI has so far been used as treatment resources, particularly for PTSD. The use of virtual reality has been reported to reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders, PTSD, and substance abuse. The way it does this is through exposure therapy, where therapists can produce virtual environments that mimic feared circumstances, without having individuals directly exposed to the real setting. The applications of virtual reality in exposure therapy are numerous, offering a cost-effective means to therapy that doesn’t require physical attendance to diverse feared settings.

A less discussed use case combining technology and therapy is through the involvement of AI. With intricate algorithms, robots can replace humans as therapists in quickly deciphering patterns of behaviour to determine mental health conditions that later informs appropriate treatment outcomes. Whilst this is still somewhat experimental, this use case presents a futuristic interpretation of therapy altogether. There are some fundamental limitations to using robots instead of human therapists: the invaluable quality of empathy has not yet been mastered by AI, presenting challenges for IT jobs to further explore.


Further research advantages

Through the use of technology, academic writing has completely transformed within the past few years. Numerous software exists to assist research overall, in terms of gathering and analysing data, and producing promising results. Such examples include:

  • Collecting data: recruiting participants has never been easier. Thanks to the help of technology, researchers can access large pools of sample data and reach further participation. Online data can also target diverse audiences, no matter the geographical location.

  • Improved methods: many methods researchers rely on to collect data, such as self-report measures (surveys, etcetera) can be constructed and delivered online. This is less-time consuming for both researchers and respondents, as the latter can fill out these reports in their own time.

  • Digital instruments: as already illustrated, technology has introduced novel means for researchers to explore human behaviour. Technology such as fitness trackers, virtual reality, and other digital instruments allows researchers further room to measure and analyse data. These also help construct empirical data that is informed by objective measures, widening the scope of research that doesn’t solely depend on self-report principles.

 

Naturally, the above presents their own limitations that researchers should be wary of. Whether this includes biases that persist in self-report measures, these limitations are usually accounted for, and numerous methods are applied to determine outcomes and future recommendations. Overall, technology has transformed innovative techniques and outlooks toward treatment strategies in mental health. It provides oftentimes inexpensive alternatives and further access to supportive material. There is surely more scope for research in this space, but it will undoubtedly present significant findings that will inform our perceptions on wellbeing in due time.

 

Further mental health resources available through Castille: