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The Digital World and Human Behavior: Current Trends in Cyberpsychology

Dependence on cyberspace bordering on internet addiction can be a mental health menace. “We can scroll for hours, not paying attention to how tired we are, or how unhappy scrolling makes us feel,” NPR reports.

However, virtual reality is emerging as an important adjunct to mental health therapy, according to Penn Medicine News: “A person with anxiety … can be safely immersed in a therapeutic [VR] environment and develop valuable techniques, such as mindfulness, paced breathing or calming distraction to cope with heightened stress.”

Between those two extremes, cyberpsychologists are investigating the impact of the 24/7 digital culture on traditional understandings of human behavior and how to account for it. The always-on nature of the internet and Americans’ infatuation with it are reflected in Pew Research studies: 85% of adults go online daily, with nearly 31% reporting they log on constantly.

Many tweens and teenagers — a time when young people start thinking about who they are and how they fit in — rely on their screens for social interaction. Nearly half of all teenagers report using social media almost constantly, while about three-quarters report daily visits to YouTube and 58% to TikTok.

That volume of time online was unimaginable in the early 1990s. As technology advanced, psychologists began studying its growing influence on human behavior. Cyberpsychology became a distinct discipline that studies the impact of people living in a hybrid digital-physical environment.

For students seeking a career that engages these vital interactions, Norfolk State University offers an online Master of Science (M.S.) in CyberPsychology program, which prepares graduates to work at the forefront of this innovative field.

What Are Some Trends in Cyberpsychology?

Everything involving human-computer interaction —virtually everything 21st-century people do — is a trend in a discipline under 30 years old. Some at the forefront include:


Before the internet, bullies populated places like playgrounds and offices and typically confronted their victims face-to-face.

Today, tormentors hide within the anonymity of the digital world, sometimes acting alone but often recruiting a social media mob to bury their victims under embarrassing, hateful or other obnoxious digital behavior. Cyberpsychology is interested in both sides of the issue.

Research has identified at least three potential factors that drive online bullies:

  1. Impulsive antisocial behavior
  2. Pursuit of online popularity, or building themselves up by targeting others
  3. A lack of empathy

Cyberbullies’ impact on their victims’ mental health ranges from stomach upsets and headaches to anger, anxiety, depression, isolation, self-harm and suicidal ideation.

Cybercrime and Cybersecurity

Social engineering is the hackers’ weapon of choice to crack cybersecurity measures that protect data and digital infrastructure, and the tactic preys on the psychological vulnerabilities of its targets.

“Human hacking,” as CSO refers to social engineering, is a fast-growing trend in cyberpsychology. As security professionals seek reasons why people fall for cybercrime tricks, they are turning to experts at the intersection of technology and psychology.

A social engineering message induces a “sense of urgency or an aura of authority” that defeats its victims’ sense of “stranger danger.” That makes them vulnerable to fraudulent “You’ll lose your benefits if you don’t act now” style messaging. Acting now — clicking a link or downloading material — in an attack opens a hole in an enterprise’s cyberdefenses.

“Cyberpsychologists and enterprise cybersecurity practitioners both stress the need to better understand how people interact with technology to create a stronger cybersecurity posture,” the publication warns.

Mental Health

As previously mentioned, technology cuts both ways in the science of mental health, and the issue of its impact is far from decided.

In an analysis of research published in Clinical Psychological Science, News Medical authors “found that the effect of the prolific growth of internet-based technologies on mental health worldwide has been inconsistent and minor.”

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence are more problematic. It warns that failure to incorporate behavioral science in AI risks “creating systems that develop perpetuate harmful stereotypes and bias.”

As a trend in research, the relationship between AI and mental well-being requires additional study to ensure unknown and unintended impacts are minimized and eliminated from popular generative platforms such as ChatGPT, DALL-E 3 and Code Llama.

Students enrolled in Norfolk State’s online M.S. in CyberPsychology program will be on the frontlines of this fast-changing specialty in designated research courses, allowing them to flourish in their careers.

Learn more about Norfolk State University’s online Master of Science in CyberPsychology program.

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