THE INDIVIDUAL IN CYBERSPACE

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The individual is said to be represented by the psychological concept of the self. The self is a set of organized perceptions of beliefs that individuals have about themselves. The way the self gets manifested often depends on the context. One such context is cyberspace.

Cyberspace is a digitized virtual world, including widespread interdependent network technology infrastructure. The cyber-psychologist John Suler, in his book Psychology of the Digital Age: Humans Become Electric suggests that cyberspace is a psychological space. According to Suler, cyberspace is an extension of the psyche that reflects an individual’s personality, beliefs, and lifestyle. He further suggests that cyberspace is a transitional space that blends the intrapsychic world of the individual with that of the electronic world.

Research suggests that cyberspace becomes a good platform for self-presentation. Self-presentation is about how people create and maintain a certain impression and how they make others view them in a particular manner. The sociologist Erving Goffman suggested that individuals try to create a favorable impression of themselves. This self-presentation in cyberspace, however, depends on the specific features of cyberspace.

In cyberspace, people generally have a heightened sense of private self-awareness and a reduced sense of public self-awareness. During online interaction, the individual is less conscious about the surroundings due to social distance and a sense of comfort, which reduces evaluation apprehension. Further, not being conscious of surroundings indicates that the individual has a reduced sense of public self-awareness.

A heightened sense of private self-awareness means that the individual has greater access to inner thoughts and feelings, and a reduced sense of public self-awareness means that the individual does not have a fear of being negatively judged by others. This, further, plays a role in self-disclosure.

In his research, the social psychologist and professor of information systems, Adam Joinson found that a heightened private sense of self-awareness combined with a reduced sense of public self-awareness leads to more self-disclosure. Having greater access to inner thoughts and feelings and being less conscious of surroundings tends to make people indulge in high self-disclosure. Therefore, when being online, people tend to reveal or disclose a lot more personal, private, and intimate aspects of themselves.

The computer-mediated communication (CMC) expert Joseph Walther suggests something similar in his Hyper-personal Model. Walther suggests that the features of cyberspace enable people to reveal personal information about themselves – hence the name hyper-personal.

Communication on the internet is usually asynchronous, allowing people to take their time in responding. The responses of individuals are well thought out, and they have greater control over what they have to convey. All this gives them greater psychological comfort, which in turn, makes it easier for them to reveal more and more personal, intimate information as compared to face-to-face interactions.

Similar ideas were given by John Suler. Suler suggested that the way people act in cyberspace may be different from how they act in face-to-face interactions. According to Suler, while being online, people feel less restrained, loosen up, and express themselves more openly. Suler referred to this whole idea as the online disinhibition effect. One of the ways in which this disinhibition functions is that people tend to share very personal information about themselves. They even reveal their secret fears and wishes, which they may not necessarily do in face-to-face interactions.

The self that is represented in cyberspace is not something that is fabricated, which might be expected. It has actually been found that individuals may reveal aspects of self that they might not be aware of or have not got an opportunity to express properly. The personality and clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle suggests that cyberspace provides an opportunity for people to reveal their inner conceptions.

The social psychologist John Bargh has likened this to the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers’s concept of the true self. According to Rogers, the true self includes aspects of the individual that are not fully expressed in social life. In comparison to that, the actual self includes aspects that people believe they have and are able to express it to others.

The features of cyberspace, as mentioned above, give a sense of psychological comfort, making it easier to disclose more private, personal information about themselves. Additionally, having a heightened sense of private self-awareness while being online gives individuals greater access to their inner thoughts and feelings. This suggests that the true self of individuals is more likely to be revealed in cyberspace.

Rogers had suggested that individuals are highly motivated to reveal their true self so that others get to know about the aspects of them that may not be easily expressed. Revealing the true self also allows the hidden aspects of the individual to get validated by others. Given the features of cyberspace, this motivation to reveal the true self gets enhanced when being online. In this regard, Bargh and his colleagues, in their research, found that individuals are able to express their true self easily on the internet, as compared to face-to-face interactions.

John Suler suggests that cyberspace is an extension of the individual psyche. The features of cyberspace enable individuals to disclose private, intimate aspects of their self. It gives an opportunity to individuals to reveal aspects of self that they are unable to communicate to others, which further helps in validating their hidden aspects.

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, an independent researcher, and conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor in Psychology at the Department of Applied Psychology, Vivekananda College, University of Delhi, India.

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