Does the Internet improve social relationships and psychological well-being?
Well-known studies have showed that TV directly causes social disengagement and bad moods.
However, Internet is used for many social purposes — email, newsgroups, chat rooms, etc.
In 1998, Kraut et al. showed a correlation between Internet use and declines in social relationships and isolation,
Greater use of the Internet was also associated with small, but statistically significant declines in social involvement as measured by communication with the family and the size of people’s local social networks, and with increases in loneliness, a psychological state associated with social involvement.
This paper was titled the “Internet Paradox” because the Internet is heavily used for communication, yet it makes people lonelier. Strong relationships developed online are rare; most people use the internet to keep up with offline relationships.
More recently, Kraut et a. did another study on the original test group, and found that the negative effects of using the Internet had dissipated.
A second study was then done on new purchasers of computer and televisions, and it also showed that the internet had a positive effect on social and psychological well-being. Unsurprisingly, this was more pronounced for extroverts and more socially connected people.
So what accounts for the difference between the 1998 and the 2002 study?
One could argue that the Internet has changed. Online dating, discussion boards, social networking, instant messaging. It’s just a different Internet.
The other argument one can make is that the users have changed — when the first study was done, only about the third of the population had access to the Internet. Now, everyone’s online.
Interestingly, the new study showed that heavy Internet usage was associated with declines in local knowledge and interest in living in the local area. This is likely “the grass is greener on the other side” syndrome, and the paper remarks,
Unlike regional newspapers, for example, the Internet makes news about distant cities as accessible as news about one’s hometown.
Kraut, R., Kiesler, S., Boneva, B., Cummings, J., Helgeson, V., & Crawford, A. (2002). Internet paradox revisited. Journal of Social Issues, 58(1), 49-74. [PDF]
Kraut, R., Patterson, M., Lundmark, V., Kiesler, S., Mukopadhyay, T., & Scherlis, W. (1998). Internet Paradox: A Social Technology That Reduces Social Involvement and Psychological Well-Being? American Psychologist, 53(9), 1017-1031.
Consider using Safety Web internet safety software to monitor children online activity.