The rewarding nature of interaction in cyberspace is just half the picture. The other half is about its failure to provide the most important aspects of human communication.It’s a small world after all! Since the invention of the Internet and the social dimension associated with it, there is no doubt about how our huge world has shrunk into a compact tiny community. Cyberspace is a place to make connections with people far and wide, from places all over the world. The interactions and behaviors observed in this virtual world are yet another interesting aspect to delve into. Psychologists have tried to explain some patterns of mental processes that can occur during communications that take place in cyberspace.
Cyber communication overrules real life communication with some of its unique features: the ease of all-day access, the wide range and diversity of communications possible (all in one time!), and the option of keeping one’s identity anonymous are some of its attractions. A great advantage that interaction in cyber space has is that it is unrestricted by a time frame, hence giving the time and opportunity to think and restructure thoughts before they are sent out as words. With all its positive factors, cyberspace becomes a great field for socialization and meeting people that are probably hard to come across in real life.
The rewarding nature of interaction in cyberspace is just half the picture. The other half is about its failure to provide the most important aspects of human communication. Researchers conclude that about 90 percent of human communication is just non-verbal (i.e. gestures, body language, eye contact, appearance, etc.). Cyber communication, however, is mostly just verbal. Ever felt your messages being misconstrued or misunderstood during an online interaction? You tried posting a simple thing that was meant to be taken lightly, but it created a flame war instead. Blame all this to the deficiency of adequate non-verbal cues in cyberspace. Owing to this deficiency, psychologists have explained certain psychological reactions that might be triggered whilst online interactions:
The Solipsistic Introjections: When communicating with an online companion, the one thing that gets most activated is our imagination. The mind tends to create a visual image of the other person – assigning a particular voice, appearance, expectations, and wishes to the fantasized character so that it seems more “real”. For the most part, communication confined to cyberspace is dialogue between one’s mind and the designed character of imagination.
Transference Reaction: Because online interaction relies a great deal on verbal/writing skills, a lack of or inadequacy of these abilities sends out vague messages to the other end. To fill in the gaps or obscurities in conversation, the mind projects its own expectations, concerns, and hopes onto the other. Under this situation of doubt, we use our previous experiences and cling on to our old expectations about how people relate to us – perhaps those that formed in our early relationships with our parents and siblings.
The Disinhibition Effect: Poet Oscar Wilde had once said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” The truth to this statement might be debatable, but in cyberspace it is often noticed that people interact more openly, perhaps in a manner that they would not in their offline lives. The choice of being anonymous online gives people the freedom to step out of their psychological barriers, let out their inner feelings and secrets, behave in an unusually nice manner, and express emotions differently. This world that the mind has created is a much different one: unbounded by the demands and responsibilities of the real world.
The Black Hole Experience: Friendships formed and limited to cyberspace may give way to this interesting experience. The strength of intimacy of an online relationship has a lot to do with the pace of conversation and interaction. An abrupt unexpected drop in the pace may push one’s mind into the black hole experience, wherein the other party’s silence is taken as clue of expression of anger, indifference, stubborn withdrawal, punishment, laziness, or preoccupation with other things. Once again, the mind wants to cling onto its old expectations and experiences to bring about a transference reaction.
There are many more studies and explanations given by psychologists to show how online psychological responses and behavior vary from real life. Being aware of these delusional aspects makes us more careful before we send and receive messages in the online community.
Psychologists also suggest the use of the “Integration Principle” by which people should try to synchronize their online activity with their offline lives. There are several ways to do this, namely: telling offline companions about one’s online life, meeting online companions in-person, meeting offline companions online, bringing online behavior offline, or bringing offline behavior online. The awareness of the nature of online interaction and use of the integration principle can help one resolve the many ambiguities that are involved in cyberspace, and improve our online experience. It may also help enhance personal growth and understanding one’s self!