Relation Between Psychological Well-being and Internet Usage

05 Apr 2018

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Two major paradigms have been utilized in attempt to describe interactions between psychological well-being and internet usage: a deficiency paradigm which points out that the use of media is the consequence and compensation for unsatisfactory face-to-face interactions, and a global use paradigm, where internet usage are considered to be universal in terms of behaviours in online and offline social interaction (Tsao, 1996). Studies into the usage of social networking sites, such as Facebook, delivers several distinctions for the contrast of the two paradigms. University students supported the global use paradigm, where the relationship of online and offline social interactions were compared, and students reporting larger number of close friends and more offline face-to-face interactions had larger pool of Facebook friends.

Humans, as social animals, are bound and thrive with social interactions; which cultivates our psychological well-being. According to Diener (1997), psychological well-being denotes how individuals appraise their lives, and such evaluations may essentially be in forms of cognitions, where it is an evaluation of the lives of individuals based on their satisfaction of their life as a whole, or, in another way, in the form of affect, where it is an appraisal guided by emotions and feelings in which individuals experience positive or negative moods in reaction to their everyday lives, and as people invariably experience moods and emotions, which may have a positive effect or a negative effect, the postulation is that most individuals evaluate their life as either good or bad, so they are normally able to offer judgments. Thus, as individuals who are unable to experience satisfaction in one area of their life, they would look to another medium in attempt to search for a comfort zone, and especially in times where technology thrive, where individuals dwell in an increasingly networked world, they are relentlessly connected to each other through various methods, with social networking spaces providing one of the most popular methods that people employ to link each other together. Individuals who cope well in social interactions make use of media as a tool for advancement in their social standings, and those who are unable to cope, use media as compensation for their unsatisfactory face-to-face interactions. Tsao (1996) describes interactions between media use and psychological well-being as two separate major paradigms: a global use paradigm, as well as a deficiency paradigm.

Tsao (1996) explains that the deficiency paradigm, which forecasts that individuals view media usage as a compensatory mean of their unsatisfactory social interactions. Ashe & McCutcheon (2001) refer such phenomenon that an individual exhibit as parasocial interaction, where it is considered a one-sided interpersonal relationship in which one party holds a great amount of information about the other, but the other party does not. Such occurrences can usually be observed between celebrities and fans. While it may not necessarily be negative, the emergence of a new medium for social interactions to occur was considered to provide more negative effects than positive ones, as parasocial interaction are considered to be counterproductive in terms of social interactivity. It has been clarified by Stepanikova, Nie & He (2010) that in the long run, deficits on offline face-to-face social interconnectivity can be observed as individuals are immersed in online interactions and have diminished interest in actual real world interactions. Turkle (1995) argued that individuals who engage and immerse in online-role-playing games would have the tendency to neglect their real lives so as to be able to live in the virtual world. Kraut (1998) provides the same point of view, and added on that after a period of time, the families of such parasocial interactions garnered higher rates of loneliness, as well as lower rates of social involvement in the real world, and as reported by Nie and Erbring (2002), there was a negative correlation with the amount of time spent on the internet and amount of time spent for social interactions. As such, online interactions were preferred to as compared to face-to-face communications, and were found to be lonelier as time spent online increases. The deficiency paradigm is strong in its concept to explain the relationship of how individuals deal with online and offline social interactions, with illustrations of the causal behaviour of parasocial interaction. However, further analyses conducted by other researchers may overthrow the deficiency paradigm. Gross (2004) challenges the strength of the research of Tsao by proposing that the deficiency paradigm is limited as it may not apply to every situation or case, and findings suggested that there are no significant correlations between social involvement and total time spent online, and there would be a better explanation on the relationship of online and offline social interactivity which can be established.

Tsao (1996) elicits that in the global use paradigm, individuals display similar behavioural patterns when they are online, as well as offline. This would mean that individuals make use of media not as a compensatory mean, but rather, as a tool for the enrichment of their social statuses, as well as being connected to others. Park, Kee & Valenzuela (2009) illustrates such universal behavioural pattern, as explained by the global use paradigm, through their findings that university students were using online social media sites such as Facebook to satisfy their social and psychological needs. Their results revealed that students were participating in Facebook groups to be kept up to date with events occurring on and off campus, to socialise with friends and to gain self-status (Park et al. 2009). In a similar study, Freberg et. al (2010) conducted a survey which includes 124 undergraduate students, and questionnaires were administered to the students to evaluate the relationship between online and offline social interactions. Several factors that were part of the assessment criteria was how individuals spend their time offline, which includes face-to-face social interactions with friends and family, as well as assessing their online connectivity, which translates to how often they spend interacting with friends they consider to be close. Results revealed that the majority of the assessed students reported being active on social networking sites, and it is found that there was no significant negative relationship between online and offline social interactivity. However, the limitation in this particular study is such that distortion to the actual number of close friends an individual has online would contaminate the actual data set, and thus would affect the reliability of the survey. Student in the sample size may not answer truthfully, or may have errors in thinking that they may have more close friends than they actually would have. Another example that limits the research is that the needs and gratifications of the students were not assessed beforehand, and as such it was not clear to ascertain that media usage of the participant was attributed to compensatory or non-compensatory means. All total, few studies regarding the effects of online usage on psychological well-being revealed adverse effects, as majority of studies displayed little to no impact on online and offline social interactions (Gross, 2004), and other studies suggested that the relationship of online and offline social interaction would be better improved by a certain amount of online usage (Shaw & Gant, 2002). These findings are more consistent with the global use paradigm brought up by Tsao, which evidently advocates internet use has become a universal experience as opposed to being referred to as a strategy for compensating what is lacking in our actual lives.

The studies have provided a direction in explaining that the global use paradigm is more appropriate in the explanation of the relationship of online and offline social interactions. In addition, studies suggests that the way we interact online is shifting in the direction of the way we interact in the real world, and that proposes that the amount of social media usage by students are seen as universal in terms of behaviour in social interaction, as opposed to the deficiency paradigm suggesting that users have dissonance in the relationship of online and offline social interactions, and as researches reveal, those who are lacking in terms of offline face-to-face social interaction do not appear to be finding for more social connections online as a means of compensating for the deficient real world social experience. Nonetheless, it is certain that as the amount of time spent on social networking sites increases to a level where it is considered deficit, it would cause our offline social interactions to be damaged as the more time spent online, it would mean we would have lesser time for face-to-face social interactions (Stepanikova, Nie & He, 2010).

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