Get Your Head in the Game

Get Your Head in the Game

Dr Linda Kaye

We are spending more time online and in virtual spaces than ever before. Online settings have become fundamental to us staying connected during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Using them, we can continue to keep in touch, keep working and keep learning.

So as technology is playing a fundamental part in contemporary society, the psychology of using online spaces to recreate a way to simply “carry on” has never been more topical or significant.

Dr Linda Kaye

Here, Dr Linda Kaye, Chair of the British Psychological Society’s Cyberpsychology Section and Reader in Psychology at Edge Hill explains how online settings have become even more valuable to our psychological wellbeing during the recent unprecedented events and how this will continue in the future.

During the pandemic, it has become increasingly obvious that online settings are fundamental to us staying connected with each other.

They have played a key role in allowing us to continue socialising, continue working, and of course, access a range of services. What’s interesting is that a lot of public and media debate about technology during the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted to become much more optimistic about the role of technology in society.

We’ve finally begun to move away from the negative narrative of how ‘screens are rotting our brains’, and towards more positive consideration of the way technology plays a fundamental part in contemporary society.

game controller

I lead on our Psychology and the Virtual World module – an optional module on our BSc (Hons) Psychology and BSc (Hons) Educational Psychology programmes. If you’ve ever wondered about social identity through online gaming, the way in which you behave online and why and how online settings can develop a sense of belonging, Cyberpsychology may help your understanding.

So let’s start at the beginning. Cyberpsychology is the scientific study of our psychological experiences with new technologies and aspects of the Internet. It is important because in contemporary society, technology and the Internet form such an important part of our everyday experiences.

Technology is very much a part of how we socialise, how we entertain ourselves, how we work, and how we learn. Psychology is all about understanding human thought and behaviour, but critically we want to know how this works in 21st century society. This is where cyberpsychology can give us a unique perspective about contemporary human behaviour.

Understanding how we connect through online gaming is an area I’m passionate about. Many of us play online games but perhaps don’t think about the way it can be supporting us psychologically and socially.

Animal Crossing game
Online games like Animal Crossing have brought people together during long periods of distancing. Copyright Nintendo. Taken from the game Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Online gaming essentially allows us to be socially connected by the Internet and have fun with each other, even when we are apart. This is important, because it allows us to be social beyond the usual “real world” socialising we do. In the more recent context of COVID-19, where we have all had to be physically distant from each other, online gaming has been a really important lifeline in helping so many people stay socially connected.

I’ve always been against the term “social distancing” because actually – in times of physical distancing – our social connections and belonging are more important than ever.

Dr Linda Kaye

For so many people across the globe, online games like Animal Crossing have been part of the social glue bringing people together during these long periods of distancing.

During the pandemic, it has become increasingly obvious that online settings are fundamental to us staying connected with each other. They have played a key role in allowing us to continue socialising, continue working, and of course, access a range of services. What’s interesting is that a lot of public and media debate about technology during the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted to become much more optimistic about the role of technology in society.

We’ve finally begun to move away from the negative narrative of how ‘screens are rotting our brains’, and towards more positive consideration of the way technology plays a fundamental.

Dr Linda Kaye

The research my colleagues and I have done to understand online behaviour looks at how personality traits may relate to different behaviours online, and what other people think about us based on these behaviours.

Something we’ve looked at specifically are emoji. What we’ve learned from this is that certain personality traits – such as open-mindedness – seem to be related to the type of emoji people use. When we use the smiley emoji on Facebook, for example, people judge us to be agreeable and open-minded!

Emojis
People who perceive themselves as agreeable, conscientious and open more likely to use “happy” emoticons

There are a lot of other different types of online behaviour which help us to understand each other, but emoji are something that we focused on, and this was quite a fun thing to research.

One way I bring my research insights into my students’ learning experiences is through the optional specialist module I lead on, called Psychology and the Virtual World. We cover a lot of different Cyberpsychology topics within this module, and certainly the topics where we look at the psychology of digital gaming is a great opportunity to introduce my own work and critical insights.

I also do a lot to support final year undergraduate students with their dissertations. This allows me to support students with undertaking research that provides a novel contribution to cyberpsychology and work I have supported students with previously has been of a publishable standard. In fact, we have many students in the Department of Psychology who have indeed gone on to publish research papers with colleagues as a result of their dissertation work. This is an enormous achievement, and I am always proud to have played a part in supporting my students.

But out of all that I teach, and have researched, I’d say my students are always most surprised when they realise I have done my own TED talk! I deliberately integrate this into one of the sessions I teach on ‘Online Identity and Personality’.

As part of a take-home activity, I ask them to Google and watch a TED talk called What Your Emoji Says About You. When they realise it’s me, it blows their minds!

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