Research that changes lives: helping everyone to live well online

Dr Linda Kaye – Reader in Psychology

With every advance in technology, more and more of our communication goes online. Email, social media and online gaming have revolutionised the way we communicate with one another, but along with incredible opportunities it also brings many challenges.

 Dr Linda Kaye’s expertise in the emerging field of cyberpsychology (the application of psychology to new technology) is sought after by media organisations, mental health charities and government committees alike, who are looking to understand these uniquely 21st century issues. From showing how emoji affect our first impressions of people, to identifying online personality traits, to debating whether online interaction is good or bad for our wellbeing, Dr Kaye’s work is having a major impact on how we understand and interact with new technology.

“There is so much speculation and debate, particularly in the media, about online communication, whether it’s beneficial or harmful. My aim is to provide a real scientific evidence base to inform policy and practice and help people live better, safer lives online.”

Dr Linda Kaye, Reader in Psychology

Research for all

Dr Kaye shares her knowledge of social media, gaming and online behaviour with the public in a range of innovative and creative ways. Animations, visuals, news reports, blogs, Kahoot quizzes, online science shows, a TEDx talk, Psychology in Pubs events and even her own YouTube channel are all helping to broaden global public understanding and stimulate debate on these hot topics.

What does your emoji say about you?

Since they were invented in Japan in the late 1990s, emoji have become ubiquitous in online conversations, with the Oxford English Dictionary declaring the ‘Tears of Joy’ emoji its Word of the Year in 2015.

For the past six years, Dr Kaye and colleagues have been exploring the psychological effects of these tiny images. Their research focuses on the links between personality and emoji use, how they can influence the way we view people online and what the use of emoji reveals about someone’s personality.

They found that emoji behaviour feeds into how we form first impressions online. So, using a particular emoji can help others make accurate judgements of traits such as open-mindedness, agreeableness and extroversion, for example. They have also looked at the way we manage people’s first impressions of us online and how this impacts on the way we understand each other.

This research builds on traditional impression management theory, adding new knowledge to the debate around how we present ourselves online. This research attracted a great deal of media interest, including coverage on CNN, the Daily Telegraph and popular science YouTube channel, SciShow. This resulted in Dr Kaye being invited to speak at a TEDx event and leading a number of public engagement activities for the British Psychological Society – all of which are helping to inform and educate people about online communication.

The darker side of living online

Can you tell what a person is really like by their online behaviour?

Building on her emoji research, Dr Kaye and colleagues examined whether the use of different types of emoji correspond to different personality types. More recently, she has broadened this out to look at whether certain online personality types are more susceptible to online persuasion, scams, fake news, cybersecurity vulnerabilities or trolling.

This research has many real world applications as we spend more and more of our lives online. Dr Kaye’s findings have informed educational media campaigns for the BBC to help young people detect fake news, and to explain the psychology behind online trolling. She also worked with Which? magazine on articles on the persuasive techniques used in an online Bitcoin scam and in banking scams during Covid-19. Dr Kaye’s insights into online victim susceptibility also led to her working with Trend Micro, a global leader in cybersecurity solutions, producing a White Paper on office cybersecurity which has informed future training and support for IT leaders.

“I believe Dr Kaye’s expert view has provided our readers with a powerful and important insight into the psychological pressure exerted by fraudsters. It is my hope that readers will be better placed to spot such tactics after reading Dr Kaye’s contribution.”

Journalist, Which? magazine

Improving mental health one app at a time

Challenging the media’s focus on the negative aspects of living online, Dr Kaye has instead studied the way online settings can bring people together and make them feel connected, and how that impacts on their overall wellbeing. This work, which looked at wellbeing in gaming communities and WhatsApp groups. attracted the attention of mental health social enterprise, Inside Out, which was looking for scientific support to develop a mental health app.

Dr Kaye joined the Advisory Board, providing psychological evidence and expertise that informed the rationale for FormScore, an app to support the mental health and wellbeing of employees by allowing them to disclose problems and seek help in a safe environment. The app is currently being piloted by numerous businesses in the UK and has interest from the USA and Australia.

Given that around 15% of those in work in England have symptoms of a mental health problem, and an estimated 1 billion people suffer from anxiety worldwide, if rolled out internationally, FormScore could have a significant positive effect on employees’ mental health.

“The research of Dr Kaye in this area was invaluable in helping validate the FormScore idea, in that we are creating a direct means of connecting with others around our mental wellbeing. This, in turn, was helpful for the development team and gave comfort to investors.”

CEO, Inside Out

Changing policy

In 2020, Dr Kaye was invited to give oral evidence about the long-term impact of living online to the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Lords. This brought together all of her research into online behaviour and wellbeing and her recommendations have been taken forward for debate in the House of Commons. If accepted, this could have a major impact on the way we communicate online in the future.

Our research means that…

Social media users have a better understanding of the effects of online tools such as emoji, as well as how to spot potential danger areas like fake news and trolling.

 Media organisations have access to research that can inform future campaigns, for example to change behaviour such as smoking, help people avoid online scams or raise awareness of cybersecurity.

The UK government has evidence to support new guidance for social tech companies around good etiquette, regulatory behaviours and ethical frameworks for data sharing that will benefit everyone who communicates online.

Find out more about Linda Kaye's research by viewing her profile on Pure

 

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