Psychology in the Blogosphere: Misuse of Power?

Last week, I examined the application of psychology research studies and how they could, in one specific case, be misused and twisted in order to provide a basis for new legislation. While the outcome of the legislation concerning aggression and video games is still undecided, this week I entered the blogosphere to read about other ways in which psychology is meeting realms of modern technology. In light of my previous post, I was drawn to blog posts concerning the psychological effects of social networking sites. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are fast becoming some of the most important and popular destinations on the internet. Facebook, alone, has “more than 175 million active users,” and “more than 3 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide)." Due to the growing popularity of these websites, new psychology research studies are emerging to explain the link between the internet and the brain. In light of this, this week I examine a post by John M. Grohol, PSY.D., entitled “Can Blogging Make You Happier?” on the World of Psychology blog, which looks at a research study linking blogging and happiness. Additionally, I consider a post called “Facebook Causes Marble Loss” on the Mindhacks.com blog by Vaughan Bell, Ph.D., which critiques the improper use of psychological research studies and the negative effect that can occur from it. My responses to both of these blog posts can be found below and at their respective sites.

"Can Blogging Make You Happier?"

Given the increasing popularity of blogging and social networking sites, like Twitter or Facebook, the study you cite in this post is both timely and meaningful. I found it intensely interesting that the authors of the research study used self-disclosure theory and social capital theory to illuminate some of the links between blogging and a subjective sense of well-being or happiness. However, I have a few questions pertaining to the internal and external validity of the study itself, and I was hoping to hear your opinion on them.

When you mentioned that there “isn’t a whole lot of research into blogging, so this study is a valuable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of behavior,” are you concerned with the fact that this study was conducted in Taiwan, a more collectivistic culture, as opposed to the United States, whose citizens might have a more independent view of the self and culture? Will the results that were found in one location, in your opinion, translate to the people of another culture? Furthermore, a well known problem with many research studies is that the subjects are predominantly female college students. What kind of impact does this have on the generalizability of the study itself? Given that Facebook, a social networking site, posted on their statistics page that “the fastest growing demographic is those 30 years old and older” do you foresee other studies being produced to account for different demographics?

You mentioned in your post that “self-disclosure on those blogs will help them improve these existing relationships,” but can you imagine a situation in which blogging, with “lurking strangers (32.55%)" or anonymous commenters might have a negative impact on self-reported happiness. A quick glance at most Youtube comments to posted videos will show a fair amount of negativity from anonymous posters over the internet. Have you perhaps seen any current research with measures happiness, blogging, and anonymity? Finally, given the penchant for mainstream mass media to take psychological studies out of context as seen here, are you at all concerned with studies like these or other future studies misleading and changing public opinion and policy concerning the internet, blogging and social networking sites?

I really appreciated your post about blogging and happiness, but I feel like there might be a few loose ends, and I look forward to hearing your opinion concerning the questions I have.

"Facebook Causes Marble Loss"

That very awkward feeling you mention in the beginning of your post is an all-too-familiar feeling I get when I watch or read mainstream media report “facts” based loosely upon research studies. I recently touched on this issue in a recent blog post of mine in which a Congressman from California slightly misused research findings to propose legislation concerning aggression and video games (putting a warning label on video games, similar to a pack of cigarettes). As such, when I found this blog post, I was intrigued to read your opinion on the subject.

Personally, I am glad that you called Aric Sigman’s article “drivel,” as it clearly is nothing more than that. The very idea that the use of social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter could lead to health risks from societal withdrawal is laughable at best. Furthermore, Sigman “cherry-picking” his data is extremely socially irresponsible and potentially morally reprehensible, especially to claim it as truth to news media outlets. From what I have found, the Biologist is a peer-reviewed journal, but what can stop mainstream news outlets from claiming these papers as “the truth?” Does the fault lie with the magazine reviewers, themselves? Furthermore, do you see this as a problematic trend which is getting worse as new mediums technology are studied? What do you suppose is the basis for news outlets being so eager to latch on to and report inconclusive or incorrect findings? How might Sigman explain the antisocial and negative effects of reading a book, for example?

I would draw your attention to a recent blog post by John M. Grohol, PSY.D., called “Can Blogging Make You Happier?” from Psychcentral’s World of Psychology blog where he talks about a Taiwanese study which found that blogging can increase levels of social integration and interconnectivity, and therefore happiness. This study is similar to some of the other studies already posted on your blog, but how do you feel about a study like this, which has no control group, is based solely on self report, and is conducted in a different culture (individualistic vs. collectivistic)? Are studies like this any different—information-wise—from Aric Sigman’s study?

Finally, I would like to thank you for producing such a funny, illuminating response to a major social problem in today’s society. All too often, poor scientific research studies are taken out of context and “swallowed by most mainstream press outlets without question.” It would seem that the only way to combat this is to raise awareness about the problem itself. I appreciate the work you have done thus far, and I look forward to your response.

1 comment:

  1. In your recent blog post, I found it very interesting the way that people are able to misconstrue information to better suit their needs. In the first article, it was concerning that the author only used research from a collectivist culture, but then wanted to make generalizations about the link between happiness and blogging? What do you believe would be the outcome if the same type of survey was conducted in an individualistic culture? Also it seems as though gender has played a big role in these studies when observing survey groups. How do you think males would rate their happiness because of blogging differently? Do you believe that negative posts on blogs could actually have a damaging psychological effect? The Taiwanese study that you discussed in your blog intrigued me because it said that, “blogging can increase levels of social integration and interconnectivity, and therefore happiness.” This is an interesting statement because it addresses “social integration”, but when blogging there is no face-to face interaction. It is fascinating to see that ideals of social integration have changed so much over the years because of the great advancements in technology. In recent years, people are choosing to interact with others via computers and blogging, rather than regular social interactions. What do you think would be the difference on a “happiness scale” when comparing internet interactions versus face-to-face interactions? Do you believe that blogging can generally make people happier, or do you believe that this article is a hoax? In your second article, I like that you used the term “cherry picking” when describing how Sigman irresponsibly chooses his data. It is truly difficult to decipher true facts from fake facts when researching on the internet. Do you think that misrepresentation of information will continue to be an issue for people the psychology field?

    Your blog is a very appealing blog in weaving the issues of technology, psychology and misrepresentation of data. The questions that you posted were well thought out and I found myself having similar thoughts. The only thing I wish was that your blog included more information about how “Facebook Causes Marble Loss”. When reading it I was slightly confused as to why people saw negative impacts with the use of Facebook. Overall, I really enjoyed reading your blog. Hopefully, the authors will respond back soon!!


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