Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One in twenty five teens addicted to the internet!

"It's really hard to explain the link," Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, a Stanford University researcher who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health.

"It often becomes a chicken and egg issue: are they online because they're depressed or are they depressed because they're spending inordinate amounts of time online?" explained Aboujaoude, the author of the book Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality.
The answer to that question, in turn, is critical for whether or not exaggerated Internet use should be considered a problem in its own right.

Led by Yale University's Dr. Timothy Liu, the authors of the new study surveyed students at ten different high schools in Connecticut, asking more than 150 questions about health, risky behaviors, and impulsiveness -- including seven questions on Internet use.

Teens were asked to report if they had ever missed school or important social activities because they were surfing the Web, or if their family had expressed concern about their time online.
Specifically, Liu and his colleagues used three questions to determine if a student had "problematic Internet use." They asked students if they had ever had an "irresistible urge" to be online, if they had experienced "a growing tension or anxiety that can be relieved only by using the Internet," or if they had tried to quit or cut down on using the Internet.
Out of 3,560 students, four percent met the criteria for problematic Internet use. Asian and Hispanic students were most likely to qualify as problematic users -- although the majority of students in the study, published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, were white.
Girls were more likely to answer yes to one of questions on problematic Internet use, but more boys said they spent in excess of 20 hours a week online -- about 17 percent of boys, compared to 13 percent of girls.

Students who were problematic Internet users according to the survey also tended to be more depressed and would get into serious fights more often. And boys in that category had higher rates of smoking and drug use.However, they didn't do any worse in school based on their grades.
Liu and colleagues note that the findings can't prove a cause-and-effect relationship between problematic Internet use and depression and drug use.

They say that more research is needed to get at the causes behind different kinds of Internet use -- such as social networking and role-playing games.Preliminary evidence, Aboujaoude said, suggests that problematic Internet use shares common features of drug and alcohol abuse disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and disorders where people have trouble controlling their pleasure-seeking impulses.

Dr. Jerald Block, a psychiatrist at Oregon Health & Science University, said that to him the evidence points toward an addiction."There seems to be common pathways within the brain for addictive behaviors, of which pathological gambling is one example," he told Reuters Health. "I would say that there's sufficient data to show that pathological computer use is another example of an addictive behavior."He also suggested that because rates of computer use were based on students' responses about their own behavior, the new study might be underestimating the number of kids who actually have the problem.

"With pretty much any addiction there's a tendency to under-report" how much time you spend doing the activity, explained Block, who was not involved in the new research.
There's not a one-size-fits-all way to treat problematic Internet use, said Liu, the new study's author.
"I would support treating all the underlying conditions (such as depression) as you would treat anyone with psychiatric illness," he told Reuters Health. But, he added, "we don't really have a lot of evidence for treatment."

Block said that while it might take some time, he has "absolutely no doubt" that psychiatrists will eventually recognize problematic Internet use as its own disorder."When you start using (the computer) 30 hours a week, it becomes a container for emotion," he said. "It occupies time. The computer itself becomes a significant other, becomes a relationship."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Preschoolers: too much screen time!!

Preschoolers' Physical Activity, Screen Time and Compliance with Recommendations

Hinkley, Trina; Salmon, Jo; Okely, Anthony D.; Crawford, David; Hesketh, Kylie

Published Ahead-of-Print
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Purpose: Little evidence exists about the prevalence of adequate levels of physical activity and of appropriate screen-based entertainment in preschool children. Previous studies have generally relied on small samples. This study investigates how much time preschool children spend being physically activity and engaged in screen-based entertainment. The study also reports compliance with the recently released Australian recommendations for physical activity (>=3h/d) and screen entertainment (<=1h/d) and the NASPE physical activity guidelines (>=2h/d) and AAP screen entertainment recommendations (>=2h/d) in a large sample of preschool children.
Methods: Participants were 1004 Melbourne preschool children (mean age 4.5, range 3-5 years) and their families in the Healthy Active Preschool Years (HAPPY) Study. Physical activity data were collected by accelerometry over an eight-day period. Parents reported their child's television/video/DVD viewing, computer/internet and electronic game use during a typical week. A total of 703 (70%) had sufficient accelerometry data and 935 children (93%) had useable data on time spent in screen-based entertainment.
Results: Children spent 16% (approx. 127 mins/day) of their time being physically active. Boys and younger children were more active than were girls and older children, respectively. Children spent an average of 113 minutes per day in screen-based entertainment. Virtually no children (<1%) met both the Australian recommendations and 32% met both the NASPE and AAP recommendations.
Conclusion: The majority of young children are not participating in adequate amounts of physical activity and in excessive amounts of screen-based entertainment. It is likely that physical activity may decline and screen-based entertainment increase with age. Compliance with recommendations may be further reduced. Strategies to promote physical activity and reduce screen-based entertainment in young children are required.
(C)2011The American College of Sports Medicine

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Factors in lonliness and depression in cyberspace

Cyberpsychology and Behavior (2007)


This study investigates how disembodiment-that is, transcendence of body constraints in cyberspace-in online chat affects social psychological well-being. The results demonstrate that disembodiment is a strong predictor of increased loneliness and depression, and decreased social support. However, the amount of chat use is a positive contributor to decreased offline estrangement and depression, and increased happiness. These contrasting results suggest that online chat use is a technology for social connection used for offline connectivity, but the disembodiment motive is associated with declines in social support and psychosocial well-being. The investigation of specified motives for online interaction, personal competency, or advanced technological alternatives in interaction is suggested for future research on the effects of online interaction on offline outcomes.

Computer mediated communication: are we LESS social?

Given the huge increase in popularity of Social Networking, could sites such as Facebook be making us less social?
Today’s societies consist of both localised and distributed tribes linked by numerous advanced forms of communication that transcend both real and virtual worlds.  In the last 20 years we’ve experienced a rapid evolution with many new forms of Computer-Mediated-Communication (CMC) being used for social and relational purposes (Katz, Rice, Acord, Dasgupta, & David, 2004; Kavanaugh, Reese, Reese, Carroll, & Rosson, 2005). Primarily based around the Internet, these new forms of communication include technologies such as web-pages, blogs, newsgroups, forums, bulletin boards, chat lines, Multiple User Dungeons (MUDs) and Multi-user-dungeon Object Oriented (MOOs). Much of the earliest forms of CMC socialisation were based around e-mail (Finholt & Sproull, 1990), however in the last five years its been the exponential uptake of Social Networking Services (SNS) by mainstream society, (Ofcom, 2008) that has authorities (Kirby, 2009) and academics most concerned (Heim, 1992, 2009; Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010).   
 In addition to the highly collaborative, participatory, interactive and some might say addictive nature of SNS, we see the making and collecting of friends as the primary focus of many sites such as Facebook. Capitalising on the fundamental desire for friendship and being part of a group or tribe, hundreds of websites such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Bebo, Hi5, and Qzone, have blossomed in the past 5 years, where hundreds of millions members religiously login and communicate on a daily basis (Snell, 2010). In addition to the huge rise in popularity and visitor numbers to SNS sites, it’s the stickiness of these sites, (the amount of time users spend on a site) that’s a major concern. Recent studies by The Nielsen Company in 2010, shows the average web-user is spends almost three times longer on Facebook than on other leading sites such as Google, e-Bay, Yahoo or Microsoft (Neilsen, 2010). Note the time spent on Facebook in the following table:-
Internet Usage
Social networking activity can be divided into two basic groups, those who had or have real-life friends and those who don’t. Typically adults looking to establish new relationships are sometimes found on dating websites such as,, and that provide meeting places for those looking to create new online relationships they can hopefully take off-line. However it’s the increased usage rates by the mainstream populus (those who have who have off-line friends) and new found obsession with social networking websites such as Facebook that’s a major vexation and the focus of this paper (Facebook, 2010).
 Let’s consider the views of late 20th century scholars and their opinions concerning online relationships; some argued that CMC technologies promote interpersonal relationships and create opportunities for genuine connectedness and community formations (Barak & Sadovsky, 2008; Kavanaugh, et al., 2005; Parks & Floyd, 1996; Rheingold, 1993; Wellman & Gulia, 1999; Wood & Smith, 2004).  Whilst others believe that on-line relationships are shallow, impersonal, and sometimes hostile and provide just an illusion of real-life society or community (Bakardjieva, 2003; Cummings, Butler, & Kraut, 2002; Heim, 1992). In addition early humanities and communications scholars conducted studies comparing CMC to face-to-face communications (Garton & Wellman, 1993) and discovered numerous social disadvantages with CMC. They argued that CMC groups had difficulty in forming a consensus of opinion (Kiesler & Sproull, 1992) and often displayed online aggression with derisive or nasty comments towards those of dissimilar opinions. CMC groups were also less likely to form agreements than face-to-face (Hiltz, Johnson, & Turoff, 1986). Even though the technologies used during these studies are now rather dated, the theories, findings and concerns of scholars and researchers from 20 years ago are still relevant today.
Compared to the primitive CMC technologies used in the 1990’s and the small percentage of active participants, today’s multimedia SNS technologies and participation rates are explosive. In 2010 we see SNS participation rates of 9 million Australians registered on Facebook alone (NeilsenWire, 2010). Each day 4.1 million Australians login to Facebook and spend considerable time socialising online (NeilsenWire, 2009). Reports showed the total amount of time spent on the Internet globally between December 2007 and December 2008 increased by 18%. However the amount of time spent on “Member Community” websites increased by 63% and in particular the amount of time spent on Facebook increased by 566% (NeilsenWire, 2009). The increase in web traffic and the sheer amount of time users were spending on Facebook (NeilsenWire, 2010; Nielsen, 2010) has reduced not only face-to-face communications it reduced traffic and time spent on other websites in countries such as Australia, United Sates, Spain, UK, France, Italy and Switzerland. Such is the popularity of sites such as Facebook, that usage rates of traditional CMC technologies like e-mail have in some cases dropped by 41% (Perez, 2009).
Even late adopters of new technologies such as 35 to 60 year old women, have now become the fastest growing demographic on Facebook (Smith, 2009). Not only are traditional off-line mature adults adopting SNS technologies to rediscover old friends, they are now looking for love in safer places on sites such as Facebook (Schomer, 2009). However it’s the missing out on peer group e-mail communications and invitations to social gatherings that drive soccer moms to Facebook. In addition to the decline in face-to-face conversations, we also see a drop in phone calls, e-mails (Perez, 2009) and even text messages as people turn to sites such as Facebook as their primary communications medium. Studies show that face-to-face interaction is essential in the maintenance and strengthening of close friend and family ties (Haythornthwaite, 2001) and what some academics call the “tightness of intimate sphere”(Ling & Stald, 2010). Personal one-to-one communication devices such as mobile phones are seen to strengthen bonds with close friends and family, unlike public broadcasts on SNS. Not only have Generation Y and Z moved away from e-mail and voice communications, we’ve seen large numbers of baby-boomers and Gen X use “weak tie” SNS technologies to communicate with family and friends (Ling & Stald, 2010; Perez, 2009; Smith, 2009).
Even before Web2.0 and the Facebook revolution, academics such as Papacharissi and Rubin recognised the urgency to better understand the personal, social, and communicational changes brought about by the vast increase in CMC usage (Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000). Their 10 year old research, (before the current SNS stampede) showed those comfortable with face-to-face discussions and who had traditional social networks, mainly used the Internet for informational purposes. For those who struggled socially with face-to-face communications used the Internet as a “functional alternative to interpersonal communications or to fill in time” (Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000). Papacharissi and Rubin also found links between those who had social or interpersonal problems or dissatisfied with their real-world lives, often found greater affinity with Internet communities. Those early Internet academics confirmed the traditional “computer nerd” stereotype of 1990’s, where those with similar interests could meet, communicate freely and build virtual communities and quality relationships online (Barak & Sadobasky, 2008; Wellman & Gulia, 1999).
However, as we progressed into the Web 2.0 era (Wikipedia, 2010) and the uptake of broadband connectivity (ABS, 2010), the Internet became popular and appealing to mainstream people and social extroverts (boyd & Ellison, 2007). No longer the realm of the computer nerd, Internet connected computers are now found in most homes in the developed world (, 2010). In fact there are now more Internet enabled SNS connected mobile phones than Desktop PCs (Perez, 2010). Smartphones such as the iPhone (Apple, 2010) are now commonplace CMC SNS devices (Nielsen, 2010) and are no longer the domain of “computer nerds” and other early adopters of social networking. A recent study of 172 college students found 97% of them had a Facebook account, and spent an average of 47 minutes a day socialising, with the majority having between 200 and 400 friends (Sheldon, 2008). Sheldon’s 2008 research examined traditional theories of introverts and the use of CMC technologies from the 1990’s and compared them to today’s use of modern SNS sites with respect to introverts and extroverts. Sheldon’s Facebook research indicates a “rich-gets-richer” hypothesis, where those who are socially active off-line and typically extroverted, have greater social interaction on-line with more friends on Facebook. Results revealed introverts tended to go to Facebook when bored or to “feel less lonely”, but not to meet new people. Research also proposed that introverts logging into Facebook tended not to “self-disclose” themselves enough to form new relationships. Thus in many ways we see real-life face-to-face communities migrate large proportions of their free-time towards SNS technologies, and closely mimic traditional off-line everyday behaviour of introverts and extroverts (Sheldon, 2008).
As we migrate larger amounts of time (both free and working) from the off-line face-to-face to on-line SNS, many academics and sociologists raise the vexing question, “are we being too social?”(Gourlay, 2010; Greenfield, 2009; Hamilton, 2009; Nie & Lutz, 2010; Rideout, et al., 2010) Since ever growing percentages of the general population are using SNS, many question the excessive popularity of this medium. Has SNS become too popular, are we spending too much time on Facebook instead of interacting face-to-face (Ostrow, 2010)? If trends continue, our face-to-face social interaction skills will continue to decline, our close family ties may weaken our public and peer group verbal communications will decrease, and ultimately our ability to interact intimately will suffer.  So what makes Facebook so popular, (Coopes, 2010) what attracts people of all ages to this new medium?
Facebook started life in 2004 as an online college yearbook, with student photo albums, profiles and the ability to post comments on your profile and that of your classmates (Mashable & Yadav, ND). In 2006 this winning formula was opened to the general public, thus allowing anyone including teenagers to create their own mini blog or profile online. Facebook promotes the making friends, migrating off-line friends online and tracking down old or lost friendships once separated by time and space. It also encourages users to migrate their e-mail contact lists to boost friend numbers. In addition to Facebook becoming a giant network of mini-blogs, they then introduced the News Alert system whereby comments posted on friends’ pages automatically appeared on your home page Wall (Thompson, 2008). These frequent Wall updates provided instant group-wide communications, fostering  social recognition by your peers, mass publicity and notoriety, all of which is particularly attractive to youth in western societies (boyd, 2007). The volume of e-mail communications emanating from Facebook was traditionally high, with every post appearing on your Wall an e-mail was sent (Gibs, 2009). However in February 2010 Facebook stopped sending alerts, dramatically reducing e-mails received (O’Neill, 2010). This reduction in Spam forced users to login into Facebook to read Wall comments, further driving up traffic and time spent on the site (Dougherty, 2010).  
In addition to Facebook’s primary focus of collecting friends, the site makes extensive use of Web 2.0 technologies and exploits the strength of “weak cooperation with many” (Aguiton, 2007). The attraction of posting your photo album online, sharing videos, using hundreds of free online games, e-mail and on-line chat provides a “one-stop” time consuming communications and entertainment environment. People are now entertained whilst being “social” with their on average 130 friends (Facebook, 2010). Behavioural scientists believe the maximum number of so-called “friends” we can possibly handle is 150 (Dunbar, 1993; Thompson, 2008) and those researching traditional friendship numbers believe that we can only hope to have in the real-world 10 to 20 meaningful relationships (Parks, 2007). Mainstream press also reports the maximum number of meaningful friends we can hope to maintain is the Dunbar number of 150 (Gourlay, 2010). Studies report the majority of students now have between 200 and 400 friends on Facebook (Sheldon, 2008; Walther, Van Der Heide, Kim, Westerman, & Tong, 2008). Consequently are we spreading ourselves too thin and devaluing true friendships and family relationships?
Researchers are now questioning the meaning of the term “friend,” particularly amongst university students, where inflated numbers of superficial friends are commonplace. How could one have 300 plus friends and these be classed as true friends (Tong, Van Der Heide, Langwell, & Walther, 2008) ? One might ask “what is the measure of a true friend,” would you invite that person to your wedding, or could you ask that person for help? Or are our Facebook friends simply acquaintances, followers, classmates and casual co-workers which may include a sprinkling of true friends? Some studies of Facebook show a person’s social appearance and their perception of attractiveness relates to an optimum number of Facebook friends. Surprisingly these studies show that for college students, 302 Facebook friends is the optimum number to be “socially attractive.” Simply having a100 friends on Facebook detracts from an individual’s “social attractiveness” and ranks them lower than average. Similarly those with 700 or more friends raised negative concerns that the person may be showing off or may even be considered as desperate (Tong, et al., 2008). 
Unfortunately the addictive nature of Facebook and other SNS mediums propagates numerous problems and a raft of social issues particularly for pubescent and adolescents. Even though some research on college students suggest a positive “social capital” and a method “to keep in touch with old friends, and to maintain or intensify relationships” (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007; Hargittai, 2007), it’s the negative overuse of SNS where its become an obsession thus diminishing time spent face-to-face with family and real friends that’s a major concern. Looking at research published concerning Facebook and SNS use, many college students who have 300 plus friends maintain them via “weak tie” relationships using freely available CMC technologies (Donath & boyd, 2004; Thompson, 2008). However according to 2010 research, high volume “weak ties” are propagated at the expense of face-to-face socialisations including decreased contact with your real true friends and close family members (Ling & Stald, 2010; Nie & Lutz, 2010; Small & Vorgan, 2008). In addition other neuroscientists such as Susan Greenfield are concerned that SNS sites such as Facebook and Bebo were “infantilising the brain into the state of small children by shortening the attention span and providing constant instant gratification” (Greenfield, 2009). It’s felt that adolescents are reading less, and parts of their brains are now being used less for imagination and forming pictorial stories. The lack of reading by the young and the force feeding of multimedia games and social networking, impacts on imagination, social communications, imparting a lack of empathy towards others and often fosters narcissistic behaviour.
Other neuroscientists also believe that the constant over stimulus of multi-dimensional information, obtained in short bursts of data from different directions, and often in different formats, may be linked to conditions such as ADHD and mild forms of autism. Studies also found more mainstream deficiencies such as short attention spans, diminished aptitudes for public speaking, and face-to-face debates, plus a lack of concentration in classroom situations resulted from SNS overuse (Heim, 2009; Small & Vorgan, 2008).  In addition, studies now report that many students using Facebook also recorded lower grade point averages (Hamilton, 2009). Senior academics are also concerned about the over use of SNS and report a lack of concentration in their lectures. In an attempt to curb this obsession, some lecturers have banned the use of laptops in their lectures to reduce distractions and improve student concentration during presentations (Heim, 2009). 
More disturbing however are the activities of youth and new adopters of SNS technologies. Pubescent girls in particular have become highly dependant up on Facebook and other SNS technologies. Co-rumination, the process of discussing your problems with your peers, has now moved from a small handful of close friends in face-to-face semi-confidential discourse, to mass media publicity were hundreds of so-called Facebook friends are instantly informed of your problems  (Matyszczyk, 2009). Immediately your problems are broadcast to 300 plus acquaintances who often want to inflame the situation, spread gossip or be entertained buy your distress. According to academic studies and reports in the general media, the effects of on-line social networking and co-rumination can lead to depression, bullying and in some cases suicide (Hankin, Stone, & Wright, 2010; Kirby, 2009; Rideout, et al., 2010). As the perpetrators of face-to-face bullying move online, they often dominate SNS communities with their extrovert nature, and transfer their off-line bullying to cyber space. Traditional school yard bullying stopped once the student entered the safety of their home, however with cyber bullying there is often no respite. Operating in un-mediated SNS communities, those who would not bully in the real-world, are spectators to online harassment and are often swept up into the event and become active participants in mass bullying incidents (Butler, Kift, & Campbell, 2010). Additionally we see numerous scholars and members of the general public concerned with privacy issues, identity theft, stalking, employer surveillance and other negative uses for SNS sites such as Facebook (Acquisti & Gross, 2006; Raynes-Goldie, 2010; Reis, Ribeiro, Lopes, & Correia, ND)
Many questions are still left unanswered; however we all need to be fearful of the explosive increase in SNS technologies and time spent online. Not only are youth spending large amounts of time socialising online, we see people of all ages using SNS and thus reducing traditional real-world communication skills and devaluing true friendships.         

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Psychology of Cyber Space: Jon Suler

Identity Management in Cyberspace

Who are you in cyberspace? Am I the same John Suler I am in-person or someone a bit different? One of the interesting things about the internet is the opportunity if offers people to present themselves in a variety of different ways. You can alter your style of being just slightly or indulge in wild experiments with your identity by changing your age, history, personality, physical appearance, even your gender. The username you choose, the details you do or don't indicate about yourself, the information presented on your personal web page, the persona or avatar you assume in an online community - all are important aspects of how people manage their identity in cyberspace. Identity is a very complex aspect of human nature.
Here are five interlocking factors that are useful in navigating that maze of how people manage who they are in cyberspace:

1. Level of Dissociation and Integration
A single person's identity embodies multiplicity. You possess many sectors within your personality and play numerous roles in your life - such as child, parent, student, employee, neighbor, friend. Cyberspace offers a niche for each of these specific facets of selfhood. Some people even talk about how we can "deconstruct" ourselves online. We don't have to present ourselves in toto - how we look, talk, move, our history, thoughts, feelings, and personality, all in one big package. In different environments, we can divvy up and present our characteristics in packets of various sizes and content. Thanks to thousands of online groups each devoted to a distinct professional, vocational, or personal topic, we can express, highlight, and develop specific interests and life experiences while setting aside others. You don't have to mention to your stock trading e-mail list that you also hang out at the "I Dream of Jeannie" fan club site. When you join an online community, you often have a choice about how much, if any, personal information you place into the members' profile database. Online communication tools even give you the choice about whether you want people to see how you look or hear your voice. The desire to remain anonymous reflects the need to eliminate those critical features of your identity that you do NOT want to display in that particular environment or group. The desire to lurk - to hide completely - indicates the person's need to split off his entire personal identity from his observing of those around him: he wants to look, but
This article is part of a collection for CE credit. Click here for information
The multiple aspects of one's identity may be dissociated, enhanced, or integrated online.
not be seen.
Compartmentalizing or dissociating one's various online identities like this can be an efficient, focused way to manage the multiplicities of selfhood. William James, one of the greatest of American psychologists, talked about how the normal mind operates in a "field" of consciousness in which one's awareness shifts among different hot spots of ideas, memories, and feelings. Role theory in social psychology speaks about how a successful life is an efficient juggling of the various tasks and positions we accumulate and develop from childhood through adulthood. Cyberspace living is yet another manifestation of this shifting, juggling maneuver. It gives people the opportunity to focus on and develop a particular aspect of who they are. It may even give people the chance to express and explore facets of their identity that they do not express in their face-to-face world. Everyone in Jim's in-person world may not know that he is a romantic medieval knight in an online role-playing game.
However, the importance of integrating the assorted components of selfhood should not be ignored. Bringing together the various components of online and offline identity into one balanced, harmonious whole may be the hallmark of mental health - what I like to call the "integration principle."

2. Positive and Negative Valence
The different components of who we are can be categorized as either positive or negative. There are some universal criteria that can help us distinguish the two. Most of the time we will criticize a person's need to hurt other people and applaud compassion. But it's not necessary to present universal truisms about good and bad. Subjectively, a person can feel shame, guilt, fear, anxiety, or hatred about some aspect of their identity, while accepting and appreciating other aspects. People also strive to attain new, idealized ways of being. Those who act out in cyberspace - who are in some way hurting or violating the rights of others, or hurting themselves - are usually discharging some negatively charged aspect of their psyche. This purely cathartic act often goes no where. An insecure, passive-aggressive person gets stuck in an endless stream of online arguments. Others may use cyberspace as a opportunity to exercise their positive characteristics, or to develop new ones in a process of "self-actualization." Online romances, even those involving a clearly recognized element of fantasy, can be growth-promoting. In some cases people may express a negative trait in an attempt to work through it. They are trying to transform the negative feature of their identity into a positive one, or perhaps change their attitude about that feature. A gay person who learns to accept his homosexuality as a result of participation in an online support group has changed the valence from negative to positive.
Whether we view something about ourselves as positive or negative can become a complex issue. Is it good or bad that a person tends to be quiet? Sometimes we have mixed feelings. We are ambivalent. The various environments and styles of
Negative aspects of identity can be acted out or worked through. Positive aspects can be expressed and developed.
communication on the internet serve as a flexible testing ground for exploring those intertwining pluses and minuses. In back-channel e-mail, a fellow lurker in a listserv for professionals may help the quiet person learn the value of being silent in some situations. In a chat room, that same quiet person comes to realize the freedom and delight of spontaneously opening up, and how that leads to friendships.
3. Level of Fantasy or Reality

In some online groups - for example, professional e-mail lists - you are expected to present yourself as you truly are. You don't pretend to be someone other than your true identity. Other groups in cyberspace encourage or even require that you assume an imaginary persona, as in the fantasy worlds of MOOs, MUDs, and other game environments. In multimedia chat communities, you have no choice but to wear an imaginative looking avatar to represent yourself. Many other environments fall somewhere in between reality and fantasy. You could get away with pretending to be someone very different than who you are, or you could alter just a few features - like your name, occupation, or physical appearance - while retaining your other true characteristics. No one will know, especially in text-only environments. In fact, you don't know for sure if other people are altering their identities, or how many people are altering their identities. This power to alter oneself often interlocks with dissociation and valence. Hidden positive and negative parts of oneself may seek expression in an imaginary identity that comes to life online.
The tricky phenomenological issue with the real versus fantasy self is this: What is one's TRUE identity? We usually assume it must be the self that you present to others and consciously experience in your day-to-day living. But is that the true self? Many people walk around in their f2f lives wearing "masks" that are quite different than how they think and feel internally. All the time people are discovering things about their personality that they never realized before. Our daydreams and fantasies often reveal hidden aspects of what we need or wish to be. If people drop the usual f2f persona and bring to life online those hidden or fantasied identities, might not that be in some ways MORE true or "real"?

4. Level of Conscious Awareness and Control
How we decide to present ourselves in cyberspace isn't always a purely conscious choice. Some aspects of identity are hidden below the surface. Covert wishes and inclinations leak out in roundabout or disguised ways without our even knowing it. We're not always aware of how we dissociate parts of our identity or even of the emotional valence we attach to them. A person selects a username or avatar on a whim, because it appeals to him, without fully understanding the deeper symbolic meanings of that choice. Or she joins an online group because it seems interesting while failing to realize the motives concealed in that decision. The anonymity, fantasy, and numerous
One's online identity can be real-to-life, imaginary, or hidden.
People differ in how much their unconscious needs and emotions surface in their online identities.
variety of online environments give ample opportunity for this expression of unconscious
needs and emotions. One good example is "transference."
People vary greatly in the degree to which they are consciously aware of and control their identity in cyberspace. For example, some people who role play imaginary characters report how the characters may take on a life of their own. They temporarily have surrendered their normal identity to the imaginary persona, perhaps later understanding the meaning of this transformation. Those who are acting out their underlying negative impulses - like the typical "snert" - usually have little insight into why they do so. By contrast, attempts to work through conflicted aspects of identity necessarily entails a conscious grappling with the unconscious elements of one's personality. Striving in cyberspace to be a "better" person also requires at least some conscious awareness - a premeditated vision of where one is headed. Some people, on their own, make a fully intentional choice about who they want to be in cyberspace. Some are partially aware of their choice and with help or through experience become more aware. Others resist any self-insight at all. They live under the illusion that they are in control of themselves.

5. The Media Chosen
We express our identity in the clothes we wear, in our body language, through the careers and hobbies we pursue. We can think of these things as the media through which we communicate who we are. Similarly, in cyberspace, people choose a specific communication channel to express themselves. There are a variety of possibilities and combinations of possibilities, each choice giving rise to specific attributes of identity. People who rely on text communication prefer the semantics of language and perhaps also the linear, composed, rational, analytic dimensions of self that surface via written discourse. They may be the "verbalizers" that have been described in the cognitive psychology literature - as opposed to "visualizers" who may enjoy the more symbolic, imagistic, and holistic reasoning that is expressed via the creation of avatars and web graphics. Some people prefer synchronous communication - like chat - which reflects the spontaneous, free-form, witty, and temporally "present" self. Others are drawn to the more thoughtful, reflective, and measured style of asynchronous communication, as in message boards and e-mail. There are personalities that want to show and not receive too much by using web cams or creating web pages; to receive and not show too much by lurking or web browsing; and still others who want to dive into highly interactive social environments where both showing and receiving thrive.
The media chosen can intimately interlock with the degree of identity integration and dissociation, and with the extent to which a person presents a real or imaginary self. One interesting question concerning the future of the internet is whether people will want to use audio and video tools. Do they want others to experience their identity as if it were a f2f meeting, with voice and body language? Or will they prefer the alternative communication pathways in order to express their identity in new and different ways?

Changing the structure of the brain: Inspire to rewire!

More About Interpersonal Neurobiology

An Interdisciplinary Field:  Seeking Similar Patterns
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. is a pioneer in the field called interpersonal neurobiology (The Developing Mind, 1999) which seeks the similar patterns that arise from separate approaches to knowledge. This interdisciplinary field invites all branches of science and other ways of knowing to come together and find the common principles from within their often disparate approaches to understanding human experience. Sciences contributing to this exciting field include the following:
Biology (developmental, evolution, genetics, zoology)
Cognitive Science
Computer Science
Developmental Psychopathology
Neuroscience (affective, cognitive, developmental, social)
Mental Health
Psychology (cognitive, developmental, evolutionary, experimental, of religion, social, attachment theory, memory)
Systems Theory (chaos and complexity theory)
Interpersonal neurobiology weaves research from these areas into a consilient framework that examines the common findings among independent disciplines.  This framework provides the basis of interpersonal neurobiology. The mind is defined and its components necessary for health are illuminated. 

Integration:  At the Core of Our Well-Being
Integration is at the heart of both interpersonal neurobiology and Dr. Siegel’s mindsight approach. Defined as the linkage of differentiated components of a system, integration is viewed as the core mechanism in the cultivation of well-being. In an individual’s mind, integration involves the linkage of separate aspects of mental processes to each other, such as thought with feeling, bodily sensation with logic. In a relationship, integration entails each person’s being respected for his or her autonomy and differentiated self while at the same time being linked to others in empathic communication.

What Does Integration Mean for the Brain?
For the brain, integration means that separated areas with their unique functions, in the skull and throughout the body, become linked to each other through synaptic connections. These integrated linkages enable more intricate functions to emerge—such as insight, empathy, intuition, and morality. A result of integration is kindness, resilience, and health. Terms for these three forms of integration are a coherent mind, empathic relationships, and an integrated brain.

Focus Your Attention:  Actually Change Your Brain
This highly integrative field is not a division of one particular area of research, but rather is an open and evolving way of knowing that invites all domains of both academic and reflective explorations of reality into a collective conversation about the nature of the mind, the body, the brain, and our relationships with each other and the larger world in which we live. This emerging approach is fundamental to exploring a range of human endeavors, including the fields of mental health, education, parenting, organizational leadership, climate change intervention, religion, and contemplation. Knowing about the way the focus of attention changes the structure and function of the brain throughout the lifespan opens new doors to healing and growth at the individual, family, community, and global levels.

"Inspire to Rewire"
By combining the exciting new findings of how awareness can shape the connections in the brain toward integration together with the knowledge of how interpersonal relationships shape our brains throughout the lifespan, we can actively “inspire each other to rewire” our internal and interpersonal lives toward integration. Through his writing and teaching, Dr. Siegel devotes his life to synthesizing and translating the latest scientific concepts so that they may be accessible and useful to as many people as possible in their personal and professional lives.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How will cybersex affect your child?

How Will Cybersex Addiction Affect Our Children?

Pornography revenue exceeds that of ABC, CBS, and NBC, combined.
(Note, 3/22/11: I had planned to post this blog last week, but when I woke up to the shocking news of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan on March 11, I delayed doing so out of respect, because the word tsunami is used as a metaphor
in the first paragraph. Today I post it as is, holding in my heart both deep compassion for the suffering and devastation in Japan, and also deep concern for the issues this blog addresses in our country.)Cybersex addiction is the compulsive use of Internet pornography, adult chat rooms, or adult fantasy role-play sites, impacting negatively in real-life intimate activity. Experts are predicting that cybersex addiction is the next tsunami of mental health.  My sense of it is that the cataclysm has arrived, its impact is far-reaching, and we are at only the beginning of its long-lasting effects. I began to feel its undertow in my practice about three years ago and an increasing number of men and women have entered my office since then, drowning in a sea of loneliness, grief, and shame.  The pornography industry in the United States, with all of its technological avenues for indulging, generates revenue exceeding the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC. And if that doesn't grab your attention try this:  it's also larger than the combined revenues of football, baseball, and basketball franchises ( .  Imagine the good that could be achieved were all that money invested in healthcare for children, schools, teachers, humanitarian aid.
One-third of all downloads per month, and one-fourth of all searches per day are for pornography and the process through which it is delivered has evolved to a heightened pitch.  Benjamin Wallace describes it well in his article, "The Greek Kings of Smut" in the February 7 issue of New York: "There you are, Porn Surfer, Googling your way to a little adult material--you know, a little plain-vanilla, middle-of-the-road grown-up content when wham, you've dropped acid and been astrally projected into a triple-X pachinko're in free fall through this insane, cross-linking wilderness-of-mirrors, chaos of pop-ups and pop-unders, and portals and paysites."
The Internet supplies an immediate, private, and easily accessed "hit," thus changing the erotic template of the brain, and with 17% of women and 20% of men admitting to struggling with an addiction to internet porn, there are huge repercussions for adults and for children, particularly teens. Cyberporn has a drug-like effect on the body and mind.  It stimulates reward and pleasure centers of the brain instantly and dramatically, increasing the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with both sexual arousal and drug highs.  Like compulsive gambling and shopping, porn can also lead to "process addiction" in which the person becomes addicted to a set of behaviors that in turn powerfully alter brain chemistry (example: sitting down at the computer may become a turn-on). Soon the user can't control his or her use, is aroused only by images and interactions on the screen, and natural sexual responsiveness is reduced (example:the husband who is no longer able to be turned on by looking at his real-life wife whom he loves). These factors make it capable of deeply harming the emotional, sexual, and relational well-being of millions of men, women, and children.

What children? Research indicates that 90% of eight to sixteen-year-olds have viewed porn, mostly during homework, and the average age for a child to first be exposed to pornography on the internet is 11-years-old.  I'm not implying that every one of these children will become addicted, but I do want to accentuate just how vulnerable our children are, and how dangerous internet pornography is for them.
Perhaps you're one of the many who consider viewing pornography to be a normal part of adolescence, and you think I'm over-exaggerating.  If so, take a look at an article entitled "Out of the Shadows," by noted sex therapist Wendy Malz, author of The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography. The article is featured in the November/December 2009 issue of the Psychotherapy Networker ( ).

Through a description of her own personal and professional experiences, and an analysis of how things have changed over time, she does an excellent job of putting the current situation into perspective. She also notes Center for Disease Control research data indicating that the age of first sexual experience is now earlier, numbers of teen pregnancies have significantly increased (after 15 years of decreasing), and the rate of sexually transmitted diseases among the teen population has increased.  Other research documents that youth who use pornography engage more often in oral and anal sex, and have more sexual partners.

Many teens are being groomed to believe that being sexually active is normal, because of their exposure to cybersex.  Colleagues of mine who work extensively with teenagers confirm what you may have gleaned from watching the news on TV over the past year, and even just this morning in a report on Good Morning America: it's now common for oral sex to be seen as the new goodnight kiss and for girls to send sexual photos of themselves via cell phones to boys as special gifts. Furthermore, a recent review of the top selling pornography videos discovered that the majority had violent themes with verbal or physical aggression.  However, a small fraction of the females in those videos demostrated a negative or neutral reaction, with the majority demonstrating a positive or neutral reaction to the violence.  This translates to teens that sex and violence go together, which is nothing less than a tragedy.

Adult cybersex addiction has many other effects on children and families as well, such as: exposure to cyberporn ; exposure to objectification of women; involvement in parental conflicts; lack of attention/ extremes of parental preoccupation;an atmosphere of emotional trauma;marital sepration and/or divorce. Don't let the brevity of this list fool you.  Each item is packed with layers of turmoil, anguish, psycholgical stress, and financial impact.

As if that isn't enough, 100,000 websites are child pornography, and an organization dedicated to protecting children on line, reports that child pornography is one of the fastest growing businesses on line, and the content is becoming worse.  The Internet Watch Foundation found 1,536 individual child abuse domains, and the fastest growing demand in commercial websites for child abuse is for images depicting the worst type of abuse, including penetrative sexual activity with children and adults, and sadism or penetration by an animal.  I recoil at the thought of it, but continue to write, hoping you'll continue to read, because we're raising children in this village together, and they need us to know what's going on so that we can protect them and teach them how to take care of themselves.

What can you do?
* If you're addicted to cybersex, get into treatment. A good place to start is at This website was created by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., national expert. You will find access to certified sexual addiction therapists (CSAT's) on it, as well as questionnaires to be used for your personal assessment process.
* Keep informed about the issues.  The following are several excellent websites that will help:,,,,

* Keep appropriate child-proof security controls on your computer. These websites may help:,,,,

* Supervise your kids when they're on the computer.
* Talk to your children about the issues.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Evolving technology and our evolving brians by Gary Small MD

The Brain Technology Built: An Interview with Dr. Gary Small

garysmall“If you think our incessant use of the Internet, Blackberrys, iPods, text-messaging and video games has changed our lives and our children’s lives, here’s some breaking news: Technology has not only altered our lives, it’s altered our brains.” That’s the contention of Gary Small, M.D., Director of the UCLA Memory & Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior.  In his latest book, iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, he and co-author Gigi Vorgan discuss the brain that technology built – the evolutionary way.
Named by Scientific American as one of the world’s top innovators in science and technology, Dr. Small has dedicated his professional life to better understanding how the brain functions. He invented the first brain scan that allows doctors to see the physical evidence of brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease in living people, and he now leads a team of neuroscientists who are demonstrating that exposure to computer technology causes rapid and profound changes in brain neural circuitry.  Dr. Small was kind enough to make some time to discuss how technology is changing the brain with Neuronarrative. 

For those not familiar with your work, please describe your latest project.
We know that technology is changing our lives, but it is also changing our brains.  Young people spend more and cover_ibrain_1more time today using technology (computers, PDAs, TV, videos) and much less time engaged in direct social contact.  Our UCLA brain scanning studies are showing that such repeated technology exposure alters brain circuitry, and young developing brains, which usually have the greatest exposure, are the most vulnerable.
I believe that this perpetual technology exposure is leading to the next major milestone in brain evolution.  Over 300,000 years ago, Neanderthals discovered hand-held tools, which led to the co-evolution of language, goal-directed behavior, social networking, and accelerated development of the frontal lobe, which controls these functions.  Today, video-game-brain, Internet addiction, and other technology side effects appear to be suppressing frontal lobe executive skills and our ability to communicate face-to-face.  Instead, our brains are developing circuitry for on-line social networking and adapting to a new multitasking technology culture.

You make a distinction between two groups:  digital natives and digital immigrants.  What defines these groups and why is this distinction important?
Instead of the traditional generation gap, we are witnessing the beginning of a brain gap separating digital natives, born into 24/7 technology, and digital immigrants, who came to computers and other digital technology as adults. We know that older people are less likely to use technology compared with younger people.
For example, The Pew Internet & American Life Project reported 72 percent of people ages 51 to 59 years and 54 percent of those between ages 60 and 69 years went online, and more than 90 percent of teens use the Internet.  A younger brain is more sensitive to the technology exposure.  Young people might do better if they balance their tech time with off-line activities to help their brains develop complex reasoning abilities in the frontal lobe, as well as empathy skills in the temporal lobe.

In the last twenty years or so, we’ve heard about the growing technological corollary to the “haves / have nots” gap. But it seems like the new technologies are becoming more and more ubiquitous and accessible, not less.  In your view, should this gap still be a concern? 
What’s different about the new technology is its pace of innovation.  Moreover, it exaggerates and accelerates many aspects of behavior and culture.  The “have/have not” dichotomy will always be.  In some ways the digital age will widening that gap; in other ways it will narrow it since as we perfect the technology it becomes less expensive and more available.  For example, a surprisingly high number of people have access to cell phones and computers in even poverty-stricken, developing nations.

In graduate school I remember reading Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, a manifesto on how overexposure to media technology (especially TV) is destroying our capacity for critical thought – and this is a common theme in technology evaluations (it was recently reawakened in Gary Bauerline’s book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future). What’s your response to this position? Is the negativity and apprehension justified? 
Our new technologies, like our brains, are complex.  Exposing the brain to some forms of technology at certain points in development can impair function, while other forms of technology at other time points can enhance brain capacity.   New technologies have been found to improve memory, reaction time, and peripheral vision.  They can also facilitate communication and learning, and enhance our work and play.
Potential negative effects include increased frequency of errors from multi-tasking, worsening of attention, the risk of technology addiction, and a decline in face-to-face human contact abilities.  It’s important for us to recognize the impact of technology on our brains and make choices that enhance our lives.

What for you is the most exciting scientific and/or technological advancement on the horizon?
brain-computer-interfaces-241207New research on brain-computer interface technologies are exciting.  These technologies detect and translate the brain’s physiological electrical signals in order to control an output device, such as a keyboard, computer cursor, or even a prosthetic limb.  Initially developed to assist people with severe motor disabilities, these methods could lead to the next evolutionary leap in human brain development.
Brain-reading technology using pulsed ultrasonic signals to transmit information directly into the mind is in development, and Pentagon scientist Stu Wolf believes that within the next few decades, we’ll be wearing computer headbands for “network-enabled telepathy” that will allow us to transmit our thoughts directly from our minds, through the Internet, into the mind of someone else, also wearing a headband.

Fifty years from now, what how far will we be along the path of understanding how our minds really work?
Not far into the future, we will have the capacity to monitor and stimulate brain activity of individual cells or neurons.  Scientists already have a new apparatus that uses a photosensitive protein controlled by a laser down to the millisecond, the time dimension of a brain cell’s natural communication speed.  This technology will permit the manipulation of individual neurons through the laser’s stimulation.  The cure for the senior moment of the future brain may be as simple as turning on a laser light-switch.  And of course, we’ll soon be checking and correcting our neural circuitry through a remote control, perhaps the same device we use to keep track of our TiVo Playlist.
Below is a brief interview Dr. Small gave to CBS on the topic of the changing brain.
Link to Dr. Small’s website

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Surgeon General Has Determined Pornography Is Harmful to .... Nothing Yet!

There are more than 400 million pages of pornography on the Internet. Commercial pornography websites, magazines, books, DVDs, and cable television generate more than $97 billion annually worldwide, which constitutes an increase of 70% during the years 2003 to 2007. Just how big of an industry is pornography? Pornography revenues are larger than all of the combined revenues of all professional football, baseball, and basketball franchises.

Despite the extraordinary growth of sexual material on the Internet, very little has been written about about the effects of pornography on the health and well-being of consumers of internet based pornography --- especially children and teens. Internet pornography does not come with a warning from the Surgeon General. Internet pornography does not come with a set of instructions to guide us in how to safely use pornographic material. The explosion of pornography on the Internet, which has been combined with new technologies such as live WebCams, simply outstrips our understanding of pornography's influence on our behavior. Most of us still have images of Playboy or Penthouse -- or adult bookstores and pornographic DVDs -- when we think about our relationship to pornography.

The most pressing concern is the unprecedented access children and teens have to pornographic material on the Internet. There has been a great deal of attention brought to the risks of being on the Internet with respect to sexual predators. The overwhelming conclusion of current research on predatory behavior on the Internet is that it represents a relatively small risk compared to other risks related to sexual content on the Internet. The opportunities for children and teens to be exposed to  endless variety of sexual images, images that include sex with animals, bizarre fetishes, and violence against women, has created an extraordinary threat to the development of healthy emotional and sexual relationships.

Early exposure to pornography, exposure that can be repeated over and over by virtue of the internet, can quickly turn into compulsive behavior. Rather than look through a Playboy magazine, children and teens now can click through hundreds, even thousands, of images per day that include streaming video and live WebCams featuring children and adults. The intensity and frequency of exposure to explicit sexual images, including liberal access to child pornography, produces states of both fear and euphoria. It has been well-established pornographic images result in an increase in the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with states of intense pleasure. By simply clicking on image after image, children and teens can experience high levels of dopamine as well as other powerful hormones and neurotransmitters such as testosterone and serotonin.

Once images have been viewed, and paired with intense sexual stimulation, children and teens carry those images and experiences with them wherever they go. The images become part of their psyche. The behaviors displayed in pornography also become part of their sexual development and sexual education. The explicit messages from pornography are clearly damaging to healthy psycho-sexual development. Pornography openly communicates that women are sexual objects, that indiscriminate sex is provocative and interesting, that sex disassociated from love and tenderness is a source of power, that women should serve men's sexual desires without asking for anything in return, and that women should look and act like porn stars. Teens can quickly become acculturated into the porn industry and adopt a set of sexual preferences and sexual values that can forever impair their capacity to have meaningful erotic, sexual, and emotional relationships.

Pornography's power comes from the way it provides immediate sexual gratification. With this type of gratification comes the ability to escape from the stress of daily life. Children and teens can use the intense sexual stimulation and the resulting experiences of euphoria to deal with the daily stressors of growing up. Rejection, isolation,insecurity and social anxiety can be erased with a click of a mouse.Pornography can become a powerful, mind altering, drug that is free, highly accessible, and largely impossible to control.

It is, indeed, unfortunate therefore, that the Surgeon General or the National Institutes of Mental Health or other organizations and think tanks have not provided parents and educators with clear guidelines about how pornography affects children and teens.

A discussion of these guidelines will be the topic of my next blog.