Does the Internet improve social relationships and psychological well-being?

August 31, 2006 at 8:59 pm 45 comments

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.

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Entry filed under: Internet, Psychology, Sociology. Tags: .

Debunking the Seven-Plus-or-Minus-Two Myth What is the sound of thousands of people chatting on the Internet?

45 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Farhad  |  September 1, 2006 at 4:28 am

    There have been studies and there will be more studies. The sample space that is considered is so small that its not significant to actually make the observation general. Some studies say this and other studies say that. Why do these people waste their time in trying to generalize things that are beyond their understanding? Invent a cure for aids instead.

    Reply
  • 2. Otaku Resurgans  |  September 1, 2006 at 5:49 am

    The geeks, I say, son, the geeks shall riiiiiise again!

    Reply
  • 3. an orange  |  September 1, 2006 at 6:23 am

    hey, you might not want to waste time telling social psychologists to do AIDS research instead of what they know best.

    aw, hope the Internet hasn’t hurt your social relationships & psychological well-being too much – I see why you disagree with this study.

    Reply
  • 4. an orange  |  September 1, 2006 at 6:25 am

    (the previous comment was directed at Farhad, if that wasn’t clear :)

    Reply
  • 5. Apples  |  September 1, 2006 at 7:41 am

    I would have to agree with Farhad. Though, AIDS research might not be the best avenue for most of these people, the world does needs more garbage collectors.

    Reply
  • 6. seraphknight  |  September 1, 2006 at 8:42 am

    I think its important to understand this growing aspect of human culture, but thats just me. If you dont want to read about the findings, dont click on the link. Its pretty standard.

    In my neighborhood, the garbage trucks have automated arms that pick up the trash.

    Reply
  • 7. Ashutosh  |  September 1, 2006 at 9:57 am

    Hi,

    If anytime you are short of content, you might want to visit a site like research.microsoft.com. There are some good researchers there and some good papers (for e.g http://research.microsoft.com/~horvitz/busybody_cscw.pdf). I would like to contribute but I cannot commit.

    Ashutosh

    Reply
  • 8. TMY  |  September 1, 2006 at 10:04 am

    Farhad & Apples = introverts with small social networks; Orange & seraphknight = extrovert with large social networks; the reality is you’ll see this from your place, through your filters. those of us who the internet allows us greater comminucations with a growing social networks will agree with this, and those who haven’t obviously won’t. I think the smart thing to do is rather than complain about it, take a look @ yourself and see if there’s room for change…

    Reply
  • 9. Garbage Collector  |  September 1, 2006 at 10:12 am

    Farhad, I hope you are a nun feeding AIDS orphans while pursuing a degree in biomedical research at night. I hope you have the moral high ground.

    You can’t possibly be judging the researchers of this study otherwise. This research is what these people do for a living, and is of value to society.

    Reply
  • 10. Solus  |  September 1, 2006 at 10:16 am

    I’ve joked in my blog about geeks not having any friends other than their online counterparts. While some of us are certainly introverted in a real social situation, not everyone is. As for those who are, we can find social release online.

    I wonder what a current study would say about the internet and it’s social effects in 2006 – a lot has happened in the past four years. With the introduction of “web 2.0″ (I’m loathe to the term, personally) online experiences are much more user friendly. With the growing popularity of “life simulation” games, such as SecondLife, I believe it’s highly possible that a good deal of web-goers are more social in their online lives than out in the big bad world of RL.

    Just a few thoughts.

    Reply
  • 11. CyberMage  |  September 1, 2006 at 10:30 am

    You make a bad assumption:

    “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.”

    Unfortunately you are WAY off base. Where I live, only one household in 50 has Internet access, and probably one in 5 has a computer. Yes, it’s the United States, too. Saying “everyone’s online” shows a severe lack of understanding not only of proper logic skills, but of the American people, particularly the lower class, which amounts to a large portion of the population.

    Reply
  • 12. John Grohol, PsyD  |  September 1, 2006 at 10:54 am

    2002, eh? So this really isn’t “news” in 2006, is it? I mean, it’s been four years since the publication of that study, and a lot of analysis has been done since then about it and the previous results. The HomeNet study has already had enough holes drilled into it that I doubt any researchers give any validity to the idea that the Internet is socially isolating any longer.

    Offhandedly suggesting things like “social networking” (which barely existed in 2002 as a unique phenomenon) could have contributed to the change in perceptions isn’t very “tasty” or “research.” It could have just as well been the increase in users (no, sorry, not “everybody” has access to the Internet still), or some other unknown variable not yet studied. With just a few hundred people enrolled in both studied from one lone geographic location in the U.S., I’d hardly feel comfortable making robust generalizations about all U.S. Internet users.

    The second citation is actually dated 2001 in the PDF linked, and talks about the timeframe for that data collection — 1998-1999. Hardly a time where there was any social networking going on, or where “everyone” was on the Internet.

    Reply
  • 13. Stephen W.  |  September 1, 2006 at 11:01 am

    I wouldn’t say that the internet has changed, persay. The design was always there for vast social networking between individuals. However, it’s taken some time for the internet to grow into that design. Phenomena like YouTube and MySpace, for example, have demonstrated a viral growth factor that wasn’t as prevalent in the late ’90′s. This is also likely facilitated by technological factors, such as improvements in web development and connectivity.

    This is particularly pronounced in the area of online gaming. Gaming addiction, for example, wasn’t a word you heard that much in the late ’90′s. With developments in MMOGs suchs as World of Warcraft and Second Life, however, it’s becoming increasingly feasible for someone to lead a perfectly fulfilling social life in a completely virtual environment. It could be argued that games such as these wouldn’t have the same sort of impact without believeable, expressive avatars, the technology for which was still in its infancy at the time of the first study.

    It’s worth noting that the technology will continue to improve, and with it virtual socialization may come to be regarded as even more fulfilling than its real-world counterpart. This may be a scary thought for some, but I’m sure there are people for which this is already a reality.

    Reply
  • 14. Solus  |  September 1, 2006 at 11:13 am

    Stephen W. –
    It’s worth noting that the technology will continue to improve, and with it virtual socialization may come to be regarded as even more fulfilling than its real-world counterpart. This may be a scary thought for some, but I’m sure there are people for which this is already a reality.

    Thanks for making the point I was shooting for.

    Reply
  • 15. Ian  |  September 1, 2006 at 11:13 am

    I think perhaps the internet has become more sociable because we need it to. We are told that society is becoming more closed and less engaged with different people and the development of the internet into, well… whatever we want it to be, means that we can use it as a valuable tool for actually improving society.

    Although it has the potential to damage us socially, it also has the potential to enrich. Perhaps a rather naive view, but one I hope is proving to be true.

    Reply
  • 16. Robin  |  September 1, 2006 at 7:30 pm

    …we can use it as a valuable tool for actually improving society.

    I agree with this statement, Ian, especially when it comes to political issues. In the past, people had to rely on newspapers and TV for information on current events (and the people they associated with on a daily basis weren’t very likely to have other sources either), whereas now we can get online and read the blog of someone involved in the issue, or go to a chatroom (or a discussion boeard such as Slashdot’s) and discuss it with people all over the world.

    Reply
  • 17. Cy  |  September 2, 2006 at 4:39 am

    Quality is more important than quantity. Most social interaction is paced by the need to keep the peace. Are bloggers more brutally frank? Or are they, like me, afeared that some clever hacker dude can still get past stuff and come a knocking one night?

    Was Isaac Asimov right to predict in his SF novels that fear of physical closeness to another person would result (if I report him accurately) from greater use of holographic telephoning?

    cyquick.wordpress.com

    Reply
  • 18. bex  |  September 2, 2006 at 5:22 pm

    I think that the social interaction component is of secondary consequence. We can argue all day long on the relative value of virtual versus real interactions, but the fact remains they are interactions.

    In my opinion, the loss of localization is more critical. Locality can affect many aspects of life, yet the study seems to indicate that people lose locality in relationship to internet usage. A non-obvious conclusion when you consider how many regional and local players (newspapers, governments, etc.) are online.

    Reply
  • 19. Brian  |  September 6, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    agree that the research itself isn’t that great (timeline, sample, etc.)… Yet the subject is worth studying, there is no doubt in my mind about that. People’s social netwroks effect their psychological well-being it’s true. However, those networks also have profound impact on peoples’ physical, emotional, spiritual, financial health as well. For those looking for more in formation on this we are trying to collect it at http://www.nurturingbelonging.ca

    Reply
  • 20. simone  |  September 17, 2006 at 3:54 am

    I agree the internet is part of everyones life. It is very good for finding information about things.

    Reply
  • 21. Dari'l Brager  |  November 3, 2006 at 11:00 am

    i thinkit doesnt because it allows you to reconnect with people not separate besides why is there e-mail and aim

    Reply
  • 22. Zyfa  |  November 30, 2006 at 10:30 pm

    Quality over quantity. The internet really does isolate people. In internet communication you have little idea of the person’s mood or intended message because you see only typed words. It is not the same as hearing a person’s voice or seeing their expressions. There is a real loss of contact.

    Also, I’m not impressed about those stereotypes that all introverted, socially inept “geeks” rely on online communication and role playing games! I’m a “geek” who believes internet usage is very harmful to social well-being.

    Reply
    • 23. veezee  |  August 20, 2009 at 8:27 am

      kudos, zyfa.

      there are serious social and psychological dangers from over-use of the infernet. depression, narcisism; bloated sense of self – nurtured becuase the use of these social websites is SO much less a real form of communication(as opposed to in-person, or telephone, or a handwriten letter?!) and so much more of a SELFISH relationship with yourself.

      Reply
  • 24. whocutdacheeze  |  December 29, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    “internet usage is very harmful to social well-being.”

    Nah–the pron is GREAT ;) lol

    Reply
  • 25. Umeh  |  January 2, 2007 at 12:08 am

    The internet has really play the vital role as it bring the society close in this modern age.The internet is the great rhings every one like it .One can easily learn every things from internet.

    Reply
  • 26. Zak (Zero)  |  October 16, 2007 at 10:09 am

    The internet is used for a great ammount of social things. I think that Myspace (though as immature and non-productive it may be) has strengthened on-line relationships greatly. The relationships between friends, I mean. Socially, the internet can make you stand out more and maybe even make you more friends. So how that declines psychological well-being, I do not know.

    Reply
  • 27. saria  |  December 12, 2007 at 1:33 am

    i sware internet rocks

    Reply
  • 28. yum yum  |  January 14, 2008 at 5:31 am

    importance of touch is clear, physical contact or presents has a massive effect on people, without human touch people can become ill or sickly, and from a medical point of view those who have been deprived of physical touch can become clinically depressed, can become immunocompromised also suffer from emotional pain as well as physical damage, the most common effect of touch starvation is high blood pressure. Yet once touched human bodies release a hormone called oxytocin, which is similar to serotonin but oxytocin interacts and attaches with another hormone called dopamine. Dopamine is also a neurotransmitter so mixing oxytocin with dopamine can show such effects as lowered blood pressure and lower levels of cortisol and here’s the cool bit, human touch is also linked with the production of NK cells (natural killer cells) that attack cancerous cells and tumors growths.
    thinking about this shines a new light on the Internet. no physical contact equals sicker people and people with a lot more stress and depression, which links to the increase of antidepressants prescribed over the last ten years, yes OK, some of the antidepressants are handed out unnecessarily but prescribed AD’s had a total increase of 75% last year. Also isn’t there a bigger market for television programmes and websites that offer advice on how to deal with modern world living and stress? the market is growing in this social black hole because people are growing further apart not because they have massive online social networks but because they are receiving lower levels of touch and physical interaction.

    i know there are people enraged with what I’ve said but the truth is, if people are sitting in front of a computer they are not doing real world stuff, OK Internet communities have the same characteristics as a real social culture by giving you all the stimuli of real interaction, but all the Internet does is mirror these activities. so basically, the Internet is like anything, it’s a good thing, but too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. go out, put your arm around your friends shake their hand when you meet them, kiss your mother goodbye, that’s enough oxytocin to last for a day. and you never know you might not have to waste your doctors time as much with the sniffles and you might actually start to feel better within your self.

    all the best.

    Reply
    • 29. veezee  |  August 20, 2009 at 8:30 am

      or you could just pop in a pill of oxycotin!

      Reply
  • 30. Lisa Pasikala  |  February 14, 2008 at 1:38 am

    Well i am currently in year 9 at high school and i am doing an assignment for Information and Software techonology. I have to findout what improvements have the internet made during 2007. Can someone please help me. Thankyou !!

    Reply
  • 31. sheen  |  May 23, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    oh yah buddy this is a huge plateform for us to be socialize with educational matters as well international matters.

    Reply
  • 32. Nima Pedramasl  |  May 27, 2008 at 6:38 am

    Thank you Yum Yum, you have made a great point. can you give me more resources on this because I am going to write an argumentative essay on this topic.
    Internet has good sides and bad sides but unfortunately bad sides conquer good sides :)

    Reply
  • 33. A man down the street  |  December 31, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Not usually. Most people use the internet to look up stuff, and be social. Only a few wierdos are looking up pr0n on the internet.

    Reply
  • 34. Misbi  |  January 17, 2009 at 6:21 am

    Now adays great opportunities are available just because of internet people can study while sitting at home.

    Reply
  • 35. Ana l Dynamic Escorts  |  March 6, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Thanks for posting this great article. I find it so informative and interesting. I do believe internet should be use wisely. Computer should not dictate user. This may sound weird but actually happens.

    Reply
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  • 37. Improve Wellbeing  |  May 20, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    As long as we know how to use it in a good way, it will be good and can improve well-being.

    Reply
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    thank you for this good research
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    Reply
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    I just got a Laptop :D
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    Reply
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