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Get your head in the game

Dr Linda Kaye

We are spending more time online and in virtual spaces than ever before. Among our team of Psychology staff, we have experts in a range of specialisms, and you’ll be taught by internationally recognised researchers like Reader in Psychology, Dr Linda Kaye.

Linda leads on our ‘Psychology and the Virtual World’ module – an optional module on our BSc (Hons) Psychology and BSc (Hons) Educational Psychology programmes. In this module, she brings her expertise on cyberpsychology into the classroom. Social identity through online gaming, the way in which you behave online and why, and how online settings can develop a sense of belonging are just a few of the topics Linda shares her knowledge of with our students.

What is cyberpsychology and why is it important?

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.

Can you tell us about your work with the British Psychological Society (BPS) on cyberpsychology?

The British Psychological Society (BPS) is the regulatory body of Psychology in the UK. I am one of four founding members of the BPS Cyberpsychology Section. This is a dedicated member network for psychologists who are working in the area of cyberpsychology. As the Chair of the Cyberpsychology Section, I lead at a national and international level on developing cyberpsychology as a widely recognised area of Psychology. My work with the BPS involves organising cyberpsychology events, sharing new and exciting cyberpsychology research findings, engaging with stakeholders, and developing a core network of cyberpsychology enthusiasts.

Your research in this area is highly regarded, both nationally and internationally. Can you tell us about some of your key achievements?

I suppose one of my key achievements is having been invited to a lot of prestigious events as a keynote speaker. I also don’t think I can answer that question without referring to the fact that I have done a TED talk. That was one of the most exciting and most exhilarating experiences of my life. It’s a really nice thing to look back on – to feel proud of how far I’ve come on my own journey, but also to be able to spread insight and enthusiasm for cyberpsychology more broadly to a public audience.

Image of a person holding an Xbox One controller

Tell us about online gaming and how this links to psychology

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. 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. 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.

An image of characters from the game 'Animal Crossing' - copyright Nintendo

How have online settings become even more valuable to psychological wellbeing due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

During the pandemic, it became increasingly obvious that online settings are fundamental to us staying connected with each other. They 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 shifted to become much more optimistic about the role of technology in society. We’ve finally moved 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.

You have also done a lot of research into online behaviours and how people perceive one another online – can you tell us more about this?

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. 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.

How do you bring your research and specialist knowledge into the classroom?

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.

An image of Linda Kaye presenting a ted talk.

What would you say is the most surprising thing your students have learned about in your lessons?

They 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.

June 1, 2022

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