Wednesday, February 1

Finding The Truth: Social Media, Psychology, And You

Two psychological studies were published on Jan. 30, with the lead news outlets being the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Depending on which story someone reads it could have dramatically altered their opinion and their reality about teenagers and the Internet. See for yourself.

Study: Face Time Benefits Preteens, Wall Street Journal 

Lead. A new study finds that media multitasking can hurt social and emotional development in preteen girls. And the researchers found a simple remedy—face-to-face tasks.

Summation. Heavy digital multitasking and more time spent in front of screens correlated with poor emotional and social health — including low social confidence, having more friends who parents perceive as poor influences, and even sleeping less. Ergo, the Internet is evil.

Researchers. Clifford Nass, communications professor; and Roy Pea, an education professor. Both at Stanford University. The paper was published in Developmental Psychology.

Shareability. Extremely shareable. More than a dozen pickups by major and mid-tier media outlets, almost all of which ran with much more negative headlines than the Wall Street Journal. My personal favorite is that "Too much social networking makes girls less happy: Study." The story was shared moderately on social networks, heavily when considering total shares from multiple articles.

The Comments. About 124 comments, mostly agreeing with the negative conclusions (and a few argumentative). Most of them were based on parental observations.

Do You Have A Blog?, The New York Times

Lead. Research has shown that keeping a diary helps soothe teenage angst. Researchers are saying that keeping a blog is even better therapy for the overwhelmed teenager. 

Summation. After the teenagers in the study were broken into six groups, two groups were asked to write about social problems, two groups were asked to write about anything, two groups kept private diaries or did nothing. The greatest improvement in mood was exhibited by the first group, which wrote about social problems and allowed comments. Ergo, the Internet is good. 

Researchers. Meyran Boniel-Nissim, psychology professor; and Azy Barak, psychology professor. Both at the University of Haifa, Isreal. The paper was published by Psychological Services.

Shareability. Not very shareable, not even the original article. There were only three other publications to run the story. All of them positive. The most positive headline "Science proves blogging is therapeutic — at least for teenagers. The story was hardly shared, either version.  

The Comments. About 40 comments, mostly disagreeing with the story and "reportedly" suggested that the comments were written by youth. The net consensus, overall, was that the idea of publishing their social problems for strangers was creepy and, in general, that they (teens) were much too busy living their lives to worry about the Internet. 

The Net Summation Of Two News Stories And A Different Reality.

When you weigh all of the observations, you might come up with an all together different observation. (It's admittedly tongue in cheek, but amazingly accurate at the same time.) Enjoy.

Two non-psychologists conduct an anecdotal study that they admit is non-conclusive (but they provide a solution anyway) that is wildly believed by parents who spend all their time online worrying about their kids online. It spreads like wildfire. 

Meanwhile, two psychologists actually conduct a study with control groups and prove the opposite might be true, but the kids in question say they are too busy living their lives to engage in a practice they consider creepy. And nobody cares. 

There are plenty of takeaways and you are welcome to take your pick. News isn't as important as it is sensational. Popularity doesn't make something true. Stanford professors should stick to their fields. The parents are a bigger problem than the kids. If you think this is bad, you should see how the political coverage has been lately. And so on and so forth. 

Please feel free to invent your own takeaways in the comments. I would love to read them because sometimes you need to treat the death of objective journalism with a good laugh. Wakes are more fun than funerals, after all.
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