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PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACT OF ACTIVE PARTICIPATION IN ON LINE SOCIAL NETWORKING

Autor: Sandra O'Connor Adina Mariș
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The following paper is a longitudinal research project that analyzes the psychological aspect of belonging to a social network, more specifically Facebook. A heuristic model of qualitative research was utilized, incorporating the six stages of heuristic study: initial engagement, immersion, incubation, illumination, explication, and creative synthesis to determine the initial stage of the experience, as well as MMPI testing. As the study progressed the sample experienced 4 MMPI testing session. Data was collected from 120 participants and revealed four common themes: 1) Authenticity, 2) Integration of On and Offline Lives, 3) Social Network As a Social Microcosm, 4) Undefined Boundaries . The identified themes indicate that the active participation tends to have a negative impact over the individual perception of safety, and creates a distorted perception, even an alienation of reality. The MMPI results were showing that after prolonged active participation( minimum 2 hours per day), subjects progressed towards cognitive, emotional, thought and behavioral dysfunctions, with paranoid tendencies.

1. Introduction

One of the major themes identified throughout the literature is identity and online profiles. Some key goals of the research regarding online social networks revolved around deconstructing profiles and gaining insight on the demographics of users.
The first study to correlate with this theme is Young, Dutto and Dommetyl (2009). In this study, 150 Facebook users were selected from the network of the experimenter.
In the study were then coded based on relationship status, identified religion and gender. Running a statistical analysis, researchers determined that psychological inferences can be made about social network users by extracting information on their profile. These inferences can indicate a user’s intent for using the network. For example, users who list religious affiliation were more likely to list relationship status as single, presumably to attract a romantic interest of similar affiliation.
Some of the most significant, or clinically relevant, research, helps identify how social networking and online communication affect the psychological well-being of individuals and how clinicians can leverage this knowledge for the benefit of clients.
Hu (2009) asked the question, will online chat help alleviate mood loneliness? This study was completed in 2 parts. A group of 234 participants were sampled from a large Midwestern university and completed both parts of the study. In part 1, a survey tested participant’s trait loneliness. At least 1 week was allotted between parts 1 and 2. In part 2, participants participated in an experiment that asked them to recall some of their loneliest experiences in an effort to induce mood loneliness. After the induction of the desired mood, participants were assigned to one of the following: face-to-face communication, computer-mediated communication, video watching, doing homework and doing nothing. These were designed to represent common strategies of coping with loneliness.

2. Matherials and method

2.1. Method

For recruitment purposes, a request for participants was posted on Facebook and Twitter. In this manner it was directly targeting individuals who have experience with social networking (Appendix D). Once the potential population sample was identified, they had to undergo an initial MMPI screening to exclude the possibility of pre-existing psychotic and paranoid tendencies. Subjects participated in 4 MMPI testing sessions online every 2.5 months during the study.
2.2. Materials/Subjects
Population sample was determined to be consisting of 120 subjects of both sexes, with age comprised between 18 and 35, consisting of Facebook users. The participants were not recorded by the mental health services and were considered mentally sane. As a participation condition these participants must have maintained or developed one or more relationships as a result of this social media.

3. Results and discussion:

In the study it was decided to complete the inpersonal scoring of quantitative research with qualitative data provided through empirical data from the studied subjects. Those analisis are providing with interesting psychological characteristics of the subjects, as described below.
3.1 Qualitative segment through empirical data collection determined five main themes:
3.1. 1.Authenticity
One of the first and most easily identified themes in the research is the uncertainty that comes with being one, authentic self. Subjects were universally unsure of what was expected from them, or what to expect from others upon first entering the world of social media.
3.1.2.Integration of on and offline relationships
The second theme recognized was the integration between offline and online relationships. Of the relationships that started online, all participants reported moving at minimum one relationship into an offline space, such as meeting up while on a trip. In other instances, if the distance was too great, they formed relationships that lasted for many years.
3.1.3. Online network as a social microcosm
All the participants had friends they were obliged to keep and friends they want to keep. This mirrors some of the social structures currently in place. Subjects are forced to keep acquaintances in their circle as linked friends. The alternative would require an active rejection, like telling someone at a party that you no longer want to see him or her around the appetizer table. This pressure and desire to keep tangential relationships cordial prohibits users from deleting connections in which they may not be interested.
3.1.4. Undefined boundaries
Participants were very concerned about the filter they put on the information they shared. All participants voiced concerns over others who use social media as a forum for religion and politics. These topics sparked controversy and debate, and sometimeseven arguments. None of the researchers felt comfortable finding themselves either accidentally starting, or in the middle of a Facebook argument.( data collection showed a modification in this behavior over time towards aggression in interactions).
3.1.5. Composite Depiction
The experience of maintaining relationships through social media is one that causes great ambivalence. Within the socio-cultural context, roles, limitations, and boundaries are more often clear. In social media, however, it is not as clearly spelled out. In this new and changing landscape, individuals experience anxiety when deciding where to take each step. Each move is an experiment that requires stepping out into the unknown to define a role or test a limit within a context of a structure that showcases characteristics of both individual and group conversations. This trial and error leads to many frustrations and offences against others.
Individuals desire defined roles, appropriate limits and rules of disclosure as they interact within the medium of social media. If boundaries can be agreed upon, even if only on a temporary basis, it opens the door for positive interactions that can lead to a shared sense of understanding and support. With the rules of engagement clear, people are free to experience the universality that comes when they discover that they have more experiences, problems and feelings in common with the people around them than they might otherwise have realized.
3.2.Quantitative segment
The collected data will be briefly stated to portray the data collected during the 4 MMPI testing phases.
The quantitative segment of the study showed the presence of 5 major themes.
Identified themes that progressed towards acute manifestations of dysfunction over the duration of study:
3.2.1. Somative cognitive dysfunctions
Subjects report multiple somatic and neurological complaints that include head pain and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Tab. I. Total means of analyzed ittems at MMPI scorring in the 4 testing stages

3.2.2.Emotional dysfunctions
Results are showing existence of anxious feeling and multiple fears that significantly restrict normal activity outside home
3.2.3. Thought dysfunctions
The test result showed a significant thought dysfunction. Subjects experiences paranoid delusions.
3.2.4. Behavioral dysfunctions
Sample scored high on aggression tendencies, reports to be interpersonally aggressive and assertive in on line interactions, as opposed to the discomfort they reported at the beginning of study.
3.2.5. Interpersonal functioning
Extensive usage over time determined a modification in scoring determining a longitudinal progression towards the appearance of cynical beliefs, distrust and raised feelings of persecution.
As the study progressed the MMPI scores showed an increased tendency of manifested and reported dysfunction. The MMPI scores consisted in the identification of consistency in several aspects. There was a strong connection between extensive active participation and manifestation of paranoid thoughts and behavior.
The sample population results indicates symptoms of a possible diagnostic of Axis I cluster: paranoid schizophrenia disorder with potential double diagnosis on cluster B personality disorders.
Score indicates that the individuals experienced paranoid delusional dysfunctions, has impaired reality testing, is alienated from others and has various unusual thoughts that might include
Score results also indicate a tendency for aggression; AGGR score reports the client as being interpersonally aggressive and assertive, having cynical beliefs and being distrustful of others. (Fig.1)
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4. Conclusions

4.1.Social media as a modern communication technique has built a framework where individuals who otherwise would not be able to connect can find people with whom they share unique experiences. This shows great potential for clinical applications. The internet is always on and someone is available to connect with twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. There are no physical limitations either, which is promising for individuals in situations which leave them feeling isolated and alone.
4.1.1. Universality as a therapeutic process has enormous benefits for patients.
4.1.2.In fact, many of the therapeutic factors that mental health professionals utilize in process therapy groups were present throughout this research.
Examples of situations where finding another who shares an experience where physical distance is a problem could include: individuals who are home bound for physical or psychological reasons, expatriates living in foreign countries where culture shock is a concern, shy individuals who have difficulty speaking face-to-face or in groups when initially getting to know someone, even at home new mothers with postpartum depression.
4.2. Though communicating though social media, there are great opportunities, there are still facets of the experience that needed to be tailored for clinical applications. Connecting with another individual to share experiences is a large part of the process, but mechanisms for feedback need to be defined clearly.

Fig. 1. The dynamic of subjects modification in aggressive behavior

4.2.1. The clinical implication should consider the strong negative impact that extensive usage is having on facebook users.
4.2.2.Furthermore, privacy concerns are of great importance.
4.3. Social media as it exists today is helpful for making connections, reaching out to others and possibilities for future research.
4.4.Further research and applications of study
4.4.1.Further research is necessary to discover how the international nature of social media affects the socio-cultural dynamic.
4.4.2. In addition, research could bring insight on into how social structures are created in a forum with few limits. This could uncover more depth into how individuals experience a society with wide and loose boundaries and how that is broken into more manageable rules of etiquette.
4.4.3. Most of the research has focused on younger populations. The numbers of older adults on social media networks, in particular Facebook, has grown significantly. Research is necessary to uncover how that experience compares with that of individuals born into a digital culture.
4.4.4. A phenomenological or heuristic study that has a greater reach in terms of demographics could bring more of the hidden socialization structures to light.
4.4.5. By selecting groups from different age brackets and cultural background and drawing out their experiences we can discover many of the social forces that have propelled networks like Facebook to such widespread popularity. Although several statistical studies have been done in this space, researchers need to draw out more details of the experiences in order to discover what components are integral to this new landscape.
4.4.6. Both framing and creation of public psychotherapeutical support online networks that would acomodate the distressed individual, respectivelly for psycholgical trauma( some specificaaly profiled sites already exist) would benefficiate from this area of research.

REFERENCES

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  2. Ben-Porath YS, Tellegen A. MMPI-2-RF (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 Restructured Form): Manual for administration, scoring, and interpretation. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
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  4. Hu M. Will Online Chat Help Alleviate Mood Loneliness CyberPsychology & Behavior. 2009, 12(2): 219-223.
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