"Cyberspace is the "place" where a telephone (or computer) conversation appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone / computer. Not inside the other person's phone / computer, in some other city. It is the place between the computers. This dark electric netherworld has become a vast flowering electronic landscape. There is still no substance to cyberspace, nothing you can handle. It has a strange kind of physicality now. It makes good sense today to talk of cyberspace as a place all its own…"
(Bruce Sterling - 'The Hacker Crackdown')
'Cyberspace', an amalgam of cybernetics and space, is a word whose origins lie in the work of William Gibson, science fiction writer, circa 1984, and subsequently popularised in his novel 'Neuromancer'. Although in Gibson's novels the word is used as a synonym for 'virtual reality' it is currently accepted to represent the notional, mental space where we engage with information and interact with others when using the internet. As such, contemporary cyberspsychology is the study of what happens to the human psyche, human emotions, behaviours, 'selves' and group dynamics when we enter this abstract, metaphoric space or terrain.
The types of questions that are considered in cyberpsychology include:
- How does the fact that we are 'invisible' and anonymous affect our behaviour when we are online?
- Do we create 'online personae' when we are online?
- How (and why) do we manage the impression we give to others in virtual venues such as email, discussion forums and chat rooms.
- What are the factors that influence us to make friends or engage in romances with people we meet on the net?
- Do we use the social spaces on the internet to explore our personal and social identity? Does our sense of 'self' and others' change when we enter cyberspace?
- Why are people so tempted to indulge in deception while online?
- Are there gender differences in the way men and women 'speak' in text-based communications?
- How do virtual groups or communities form? What are the dynamics of these groups and do they differ radically from offline groups? How is group cohesion maintained in digital societies?
- Can we (effectively) use cyberspace to diversify the way we deliver education or healthcare provision?
- What are the psychological consequences of engagement with emerging technologies such as 3D immersive environments populated by synthetic entities?
The Psychology Department at the University of Bolton is one of very few HE's in the UK to offer a module on cyberpsychology at undergraduate level. (PSC3233: The Psychology of Cyberspace) and an increasing number of students are opting to conduct research in this area as the basis of their Honours' Dissertation. Especially popular is research into the psychology of MMORPGs (Massively Multi-User Online Role Playing Games) and MUVEs (Multi-User Virtual Environments) such as Second Life.
We have recently aquired an island (Meridian) in Second Life for the purposes of research, teaching and student socialisation. For further information on the Meridian Island project visit the UoB Second Life website: www.bolton.ac.uk/secondlife.