July 17, 2020

Cyberpsychology: How Life Online Shapes our Minds and What We Can Do About It w Julie Ancis

Cyberpsychology: How Life Online Shapes our Minds and What We Can Do About It w Julie Ancis

It's no surprise that many of us find ourselves increasingly on mobile devices or the internet. We shop online with ease, connect with friends and family on social media, check the news, and play games. And especially during the era of COVID millions, more people are figuring out if they can work remotely. 

In this episode, Adam sits down with Dr. Julie Ancis, one  of the world's leading cyberpsychologists to talk about how digital technology in life online is impacting the ways we think and interact with one another.  As an interdisciplinary scholar, practitioner, and pioneer in the field, Dr. Julie Ancis is starting as Director and Professor of an exciting new Cyberpsychology program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and currently writes for the new Cyberpsychology blog for Psychology Today where she's been offering advice on how to practice mental wellbeing as so many of us move online, especially during the time of COVID.

Digital technology can be a blessing and a curse, right? Connecting us in new ways to old friends, but it can also be addicting, cause people to unfairly compare themselves to one another on social media to feel more lonely even. When it comes to things like the news, it can be more difficult to discern fact from opinion. But don't worry. It's not all zoom and gloom. What we'll find is that it's up to us to become discerning critical thinkers about our own psychology and the psychology of others when it comes to life online. And understanding that we do in fact have the tools each and every one of us to become critical thinkers. And, if you feel like you want to learn and get an even better handle on it, there's a brand new cyber psychology program at NJIT launching just around the corner.

Dr. Julie Ancis

Ancis Consulting

New Jersey Institute of Technology Cyberpsychology Program

Psychology Today Cyberpsychology Blog

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Cyber Psychology with Julie Ancis

Adam: [00:01:06] Hello everyone. And welcome to This Anthro Life. This is Adam Gamwell. You know, it's no surprise that many of us find ourselves increasingly on mobile devices or the internet. We shop online with ease, connect with friends and family on social media, check the news, play games. And especially during the era of COVID millions, more people are figuring out if they can work remotely. 

So I thought it would be cool to bring on the show one of the world's leading cyber psychologists  Dr. .Julie Ancis to talk about how digital technology in life online is impacting the ways we think and interact with one another. 

As an interdisciplinary scholar, practitioner, and pioneer in the field, Dr. Julie Ancis is starting a really exciting new cyber psychology program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and currently writes for the new cyber psychology blog at the online digital publications Psychology Today where she's been offering advice on how to practice mental wellbeing as so many of us move online, especially during the time of COVID. 

 As we talk about, digital technology can be a blessing and a curse, right? Connecting us in new ways to old friends, but it can also be addicting, cause people to unfairly compare themselves to one another on social media to feel more lonely even. When it comes to things like the news, it can be more difficult to discern fact from opinion. 

But don't worry. It's not all zoom and gloom. And that's why I'm so excited to share this conversation with you. What we'll find is that it's up to us to become discerning and critical thinkers about our own psychology and the psychology of others when it comes to life online. And understanding that we do in fact have the tools each and every one of us to become critical thinkers. And Hey, if you feel like you want to learn and get an even better handle on it, there's a brand new cyber psychology program at NJIT launching just around the corner, but for now, Let's get to it.  

So Julie, thanks for joining me on This Anthro Life today. You've been doing an amazing array of work , over the past few decades, around psychology and gender justice diversity. And now you're moving into this interesting field of cyber psychology, but I'd love to kind of get a sense of your own  superhero origin story. Now, how did you come into working with psychology?  Tell us a bit about how you navigated your way here. 

Julie Ancis: [00:03:12] Sure. I'd be happy to. And I want to thank you for having me on your podcast. I'm impressed with the diversity of conversations that you have and the depth of the conversations you have on your podcast, so thank you. 

So, I think just growing up in Manhattan, growing up in New York city had a tremendous impact on my interest in diversity, and my interest in psychology. So, I grew up with a very diverse upbringing, exposed to sights, sounds, experiences that were very multicultural from a young age. Having friends, fellow students who were from diverse racial, ethnic, religious backgrounds, and, particularly my father who exposed me to the wonders of music and art and food and, people of extremely diverse backgrounds. So that led me to have a deep appreciation for diversity. 

And, I was always interested in watching people, observing people, trying to understand what made people tick, what they were really thinking, how that impacted their behavior. And New York city provided an opportunity to really kind of observe that in full swing. So I was always interested in the fields of psychology although my career trajectory changed somewhat. Initially I thought I wanted to pursue clinical psychology to be a therapist. My dream was to work as a psychologist at Bellevue hospital in Manhattan. and so I thought that was where I was heading, to be a clinician.

And, when I got into graduate school, particularly my doctoral program, I started to develop my own interest in the field of multicultural research. And, that was at a time when it wasn't necessarily hot, the way it is now. So it was a challenge, quite frankly, to find other researchers within the university who were doing similar work.

Or work that I was interested in. So, I did end up pursuing research along the lines of multiculturalism and career development. and, just continued in that vein, found myself, after graduate school at an internship, doctoral internship at Maryland, which was a wonderful experience. and then my first academic position was at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

I was there for a couple of years, and  then went to Georgia State University. I was on faculty there for 15 years, and then moved into an administrative position as the associate vice president for diversity at Georgia Tech, for approximately nine years. And now I'm headed to New Jersey Institute of Technology.

I'm very excited about the university, what they're doing at the university, and I'll be directing a brand new program and NJIT in cyber psychology. So I'll be doing something extremely exciting. And I'll be getting back home, quote unquote, to the New York area. And so, that's a very shortened version of some of my trajectory in the field of multiculturalism and psychology. 

Common characteristics of origin stories?

Adam: [00:07:09] you don't mind, I'm gonna, I'm gonna. I don't know if it's like asking a dorky question or a non psychologist question, but anthropologically, you know, I'm a curious anthro curious question. I might say, you know, when, when people actually share origin stories, is there  research or literature that focuses on how people share their stories when someone asks, tell me about yourself. Obviously like  I'm not  diagnosing, this is the right word, you know, thinking about the idea of do we share timelines, we share events? Do we share? Like how do we kind of think about, when we're explaining ourselves to people are there certain common characteristics that we tend to see, when people share these stories.

Julie Ancis: [00:07:44] Ah, that's a great question. I should ask you that question. That’s what you do, we do it from different angles. I don't know. It's interesting to me, you know, you asked me about my origin story and my professional history, and I started with early childhood, upbringing. And, maybe that's because I'm revising, a book chapter that I'm writing about my cultural consciousness and how my upbringing impacted that.

But I certainly think there are kind of salient experiences in our lives, that often hark back to our early childhood development. But if we really kind of look at that, we start seeing patterns in terms of our values or experiences and how that impacts our future behavior. Future behavior includes our career development and our vocational choices.

So how about you? How, how do you experience that in terms of asking people about their stories. 

Adam: [00:08:54] That is an interesting question and kind of funny thing is I didn't think about how I would answer it, but now I guess I will, you know, so as, as a podcastor as an anthropological podcastor or podcastor or who's an anthropologist,  I asked this question a lot to people and  actually, I really liked your answer that the idea is a lot of people tend to pick, we might think of salient moments.

And then what's interesting too, as I tend to talk with a lot of social scientists. And so because you know, being a practitioner of social science requires generally some level of study, you know, whether it's bachelor's, but more often you'll see masters and, or PhD work that those tend to be clear milestones that one can look back to.

And obviously they were  quite formative experiences in terms of shaping the professional trajectory and outlook. You know, even though they're there, of course we're like one bookmark in terms of I got a PhD, but obviously within that there are years of experience in life that take place. 

And then, oftentimes I hear answers around how people got interested in their subject area, the research area of, you know, why they are thinking about or why they work in the area that they work in.

And then on occasion they go further back. Like, you know, when I was a kid, I was always interested in this or that. And so I always appreciate it and people do, because it takes us a little bit further into their own selves. 

Multiculturalism - What does it mean to think multiculturally?

And, so this is a good question. I also wanted to kind of ask you about this idea of your work on multiculturalism. And actually you mentioned this idea of thinking about cultural consciousness too. I think it's quite interesting in terms of , what demarcates these, these kinds of domains.

what does it mean to both provide intentional spaces for difference and  potentially value systems that may be in conflict with one another. That could also be collaborative of course, too. But just what does it mean to sort of think multiculturally? I guess if someone like people haven’t  heard that term, I imagine, but if someone's never thought about that, what does it look like to kind of frame your research around this idea of multiculturalism?

Julie Ancis: [00:10:52] Multiculturalism, different ideas and constructs and concepts, and people define it, differently in the field. Yeah. I see it as related to multiple dimensions of self, as well as multiple dimensions of identity. Specifically in regards to race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status.

I think it encompasses all of those constructs. And why I mentioned identity is because, someone may sort of label an individual, as a particular, through a particular demographic sort of experience, but that person may not necessarily identify with that demographic. And so we see different levels of racial identity or racial, racial consciousness.

Feminist identity, identity around one sexual orientation. And that also kind of changes with time and it changes with context. So, what may be salient for you in terms of your experience at one point in time, may differ as you get older, so that often happens with experiences.

Now, I mentioned in terms of your question about my origin story, I mentioned relatively positive experiences of growing up in Manhattan and New York city. And you know, there were certain, certainly other experiences, that were not so positive that have impacted. what we could call a cultural consciousness of sorts.

 So for me, that relates to my experiences growing up as a girl, hearing certain messages, having certain experiences, getting older, and having other experiences, around equity or lack thereof. And for me, and I don't, I think this is unusual necessarily developing a feminist consciousness through that, which led me to, many readings, two authors who talk about the parallels between, racism and sexism and other “isms”.  

And you begin to see how kind of the content of those experiences may differ but basically it's the same process in terms of the experience and in terms of developing a more critical consciousness around sort of context for many, many people and that was a great influence in me  pursuing diversity related research in a variety of fields that looked at the impact of context. For example, educational settings, the kinds of experiences that girls have and people of color have, how that impacts them psychologically. And I also looked at it clinical settings and how issues of power dynamics, for example, impacts  client-counselor relationships. And then the third area I looked at, throughout the course of my research trajectory was the legal arena, specifically for girls and women, and injustices in, in legal settings. The impact of that psychologically. 

So cultural consciousness I think revolves around those ideas of developing further insight into one's experiences and others' experiences, as relates to context and psychological  functioning, and we all have multiple dimensions of self, right.  And all those multiple dimensions of self, it impacts each other. So my experience as a woman is going to be different. Another woman's experience who grows up in a different city, state country, is different race, or your ethnic group, is a different religion, that's a different sexual orientation, which relates to ideas around intersectionality, as well. So that's really what intersectionality is. The influence of multiple identities, positive experiences as well as maybe not so positive experiences on one's development. 

Adam: [00:15:38] And in the kind of psychology that you're, but you're kind of exploring here across these different regions, I think it's, it's really fascinating to think, in this kind of broad swath of how education and clinical settings and legal arenas. They're all different, right. But yet they have as you're noting too,  there's context in this case and things I'm hearing as an anthropologist are, you know, differences in power relations, right,  in terms of like the clinician and the patient and the teacher and the students and the, the law professional in the, you know, I don't know that the person that's either seeking counsel or, you know, the defendant or the judge. And it's interesting too, to kind of think about how all of these, There are these social structures like these, right?

How education happens, right? How we, how we operate in the clinical setting and how we, you know, perform , in a courtroom. Yet. there are, you know, we are individual beings with psychologies, with constitutions of, of, you know, who we think we are, who the world tells us that we are and how we kind of meet in this interface.

This is a term that the anthropologist Michael Jackson uses called inter-subjectivity, right? Of sort of how we're in this, this like, you know. Network or interface as it were of , we have a sense of self that gets built out and learned and transformed in context. Right? As you're kind of pointing out in this notion of cultural consciousness too, I think it is really fascinating. intersectionality too, as, as a really, important way of,  also that's, that's really what this is, is you’re  saying too, it's like how did these different contexts and identities flow together and that's, I think quite compelling.

You know, on one level too, because this is how most people's experience has always been right in  oftentimes folks will have a kind of monolithic idea of what psychology is, the study of the human mind, and that's it. Right? And they may not go beyond that, you know, or they may think, Oh, it's studies, mental, mental issues right? And, I think we'd agree that fundamentally misses the point. It's a, it's a doorway, but then it's not actually what's going on, right. In terms of how psychology works and what, what, you know, what it might look at, the diversity of what it means and what one might study when it comes to the human mind and development, right? And intersectionality seems to me like, you know, again, as an outsider, I'm not a psychologist, but it seems like this is one of  the most rich places that we can be right now in terms of understanding diversity of influences in context, especially in today's global world, right?


Where we have so many, You know, competing in different forms of knowledge and information coming at us. So it seems too, like there is this notion that you are now working on this really, really fascinating new area called cyber psychology. I think it counts to be called digital psychology, internet psychology i've seen too web psych, you know. So I'd love to kind of break this down because this seems like a really fruitful place so we can jump off of this idea of. Cause now we're adding this digital element to it right there that both seems new. But at the same time, on one level, it's just another context setting space, right? Like it may change the speed of the  information and kinds of access people have.

So, tell us, a little bit about like, what, what is cyber psych and like, what got you excited about going into this direction after coming off of, again, these like super rich areas of education, clinical settings, and legal systems?

Julie Ancis: [00:18:48] Well, yeah, similar to what you're talking about in terms of sort of multiple disciplines, because you're talking about anthropology. I'm talking from a perspective of psychology, which are different but related disciplines, but essentially working on similar sorts of concepts, right?

Just using different languages and a different frame. And similarly, cyber psychology includes multiple disciplines and intersecting disciplines and everything from human computer interaction to computer science, to engineering, to psychology. And while the relationship between human behavior and technology as a study isn't new, There are several things that are new and one includes advances in global communications and technology. We have social media and networking sites that have absolutely exploded. And we also have this notion of, Like a technological intimacy that we've created through such things as iPhones. you know, we're carrying around our phones wherever we go, we're always on. We're always connected. And that's created shifts in perspectives and behaviors, which I think are only going to continue. So essentially cyber psychology is the study of the impact of technology on human beings, and it takes a psychological perspective, a psychological framework.

You know, we are in a completely new era in the fields of psychology, and I think the field is changing and needs to continue to change to respond to these challenges. We have about 60% of the world's 7 billion people using the internet and the internet and social media has become a primary form of communication and information exchange.

It has completely transformed the way in which we learn the way in which we communicate, behave, socialize. You know, we have electronic messaging, which has become the medium of choice for personal communication, as I mentioned, we are always on, so we have this intimacy, if you will, technological intimacy with many of our devices.

We have hierarchical structures that have just flattened. We have accessibility to political institutions that we never had before, and our ability to connect with others personally and professionally throughout the globe has just surged and has enabled information to be transferred on a really global scale, which has led to galvanizing social movements. You know, occupy wall street, #MeToo. And so, everything has changed or information exchange has changed.  The way we communicate has exchanged the way we think about things and behave has changed. So, this is a field that is just ripe for so much research and so many investigations and I think NJIT is really taking an incredibly, important and bold step in its foray into this area. 

 Adam: [00:22:33] yeah. I think that's right on too cause we show no signs of using less digital technologies. No signs of using fewer internet connected devices. And in the high end scale of smart devices and smart homes and smart watches, and then the low end device of just, you know, having network connection between traffic lights for example, right? Like there's no, there's no shortage of like how we are sort of reconnecting the synapses of everyday life using digital tech. And so, what this means for the human mind and how we perceive ourselves. And  we have things like information overload, you know, and I think that this idea existed before, right?

I mean, you could feel like I've got too much information going on, but like, it means something totally different now. Right? When you have Wikipedia and Google and social media at any one point.  one very simple example  that's been on my mind when I was, when I was doing my graduate studies too, I would find myself, you know, I guess as graduate students they've kind of been like, well, I have it harder now than my professors did, because you know, where they would go to the library and use a card catalog. I have JSTOR and I'm somehow supposed to be similarly responsible for being up on the literature when I have access to like literally 1000 times more information that's a very, you know it's a ridiculous and very niche example.

However, you know. Well. Yeah. But so what, what are your thoughts on this question, information overload and in this space like what does it mean for us? 

Information Overload in the Era of the Internet - What does it mean for us?

Julie Ancis: [00:23:59] Oh, yeah. I mean, it's something I think about a lot and you see that playing out right now with the COVID pandemic that we are all experiencing.

I think it's, it's difficult and extremely challenging. We are just bombarded. with Information. You know, we live in an age of micro messaging and memes, that don't necessarily provide in-depth information, or information that's founded and based on science. And you see how quickly, you know those, those memes or those tidbits and those micro messages are shared across the globe which I think contributes to number one, an incredible amount of confusion, what's true, what's not true? How do people make sense of this? I think as you mentioned, it contributes to a great deal of stress  because of the bombardment and it also perpetuates a lot of misinformation, which we are seeing right now. a lot of propaganda, information that's not based on science but sometimes the message indicates that it is based on science, when in fact it's not based upon further exploration. And, I think it's a challenge.

It's a challenge that social scientists need to get on top of, in terms of helping all of us. I don't want to sound elitist in any way because I've seen PhD level folks sort of accept information or misinformation that's not necessarily founded on science as well.

You know, we're all subject to this. So how do we create more critical consumers of information? How do we become more discerning consumers of social media in  this age of absolute overload?

 Adam: [00:26:06] Yeah. I agree with you a hundred percent too, and what you said right there at the end , it's both critical and, and  it points out the difficulty too, where it's like, how do we learn to become discerning in the moment when the fire hose is turned on us?

So not only is it difficult to discern, is this information scientific? Is it accurate? Is it useful? And again, thinking about this in the, in the context of COVID, right? Am I getting helpful information about hygiene practices or, you know, what is good, or is social distancing useful or not? You know, let alone, like, what should I do to best practice it,  or wear a mask but you know, it doesn't really do anything if it's around your chin or, or it doesn't work if you put it on and then move it down while you're walking around outside. Like that defeats the purpose.  

Misinformation and Lack of Education 

It's that, there's  both misinformation and the kind of flip side of it too is like there's a lack of education, right? I think what you're saying too, about how do we be critical discerners of information. That's one of things I've been really reflecting on too, is that, with the masks example of people walking around in public.  Where I live in Massachusetts, outside of Boston, at present, we are required to wear masks in public and although, that's not, that's not everywhere  it is here. And, so one thing we see on news media is that there's some places that it's not required. Others, that people are just flaunting it and saying, we don't care or don't think that it's useful.

And so it really is interesting to think about, again, this question of  information and discernment. If we take the masks as an example, like how do people get a sense of what it is that is  right information, you know? 

And so, I know you're working on a really cool new blog with psychology today on cyber psychology.

Cyberpsychology blog on Psychology Today - Tips During a Pandemic

And so you've been writing some interesting pieces that are reflecting on both giving kind of tips and, and guidance, as well as helping give a psychological context  like, it's okay that you're feeling anxious or frustrated.  That's actually part of this. And that's normal. It's not like being angry or confused right now is not a sign of your failing or your, your mental inefficiencies, right? It's more just like, this is actually a response to this unprecedented scenario. And then on top of that, we are then kind of trying to find a way to contemplate what is going on?  What do I believe? 

So how can a psychological lens help us kind of think about this? Like what does it mean to be discerning, and find right information, how does psych open some doors for us? 

Julie Ancis: [00:28:15] Yeah. Oh, great question. We could talk about that for a long time. So, yeah thanks for bringing up the blog on Psychology Today, to my knowledge, the first cyber psychology page, if you will, on Psychology, Today online and I have been concerned about the level of stress in our society, the amount of information, and the degree to which it's really challenging to make sense of it all.

And there's a lot of reasons for that. Right? So, I think in terms of being more critical consumers of information that it's important that we follow sources. Individuals who are really qualified to speak on the issue. And that's not always easy to figure out. What does qualified mean?

So for me, it means, having, relevant training, having relevant backgrounds and expertise. In an area. so, you know, there've been a couple of videos over the months that have gone around early in this crisis, where doctors were providing advice or their thoughts about how contagious this virus is, how do I prevent the spread, et cetera and I remember questioning some of those, some of those videos because we were so early and we're still early in the, in the stage of really understanding this virus, information is changing. Which is another point and I'm sort of understanding that science builds on itself. And, that's not a sign of misinformation or not knowing kind of what the scientists are doing, but scientists form hypotheses, and then they test it out.

And then they refine their hypotheses based upon their results. So following folks who are qualified to speak on the issue, a person may be a doctor, but are they an infectious disease specialist? Right? Are they studying the virus? Understand that information is constantly changing and that's a reality. And that's what science is. 

Understanding that there's a difference between opinions. Which governor Cuomo, if you're following his press conferences, speaks about science and facts but there's a difference. Yeah. And I think that our current world of social media makes all of this just very challenging for a number of reasons, which could be the center of another piece of our conversation in terms of echo chambers  f information, and how we're so kind of disconnected from one another now and how it's very difficult to transcend differences.

Science Building on Itself

Adam: [00:31:22]    That feels very much like the kind of next phase as it were of peeling back the onion almost is that on one level we have this challenge of sort of discerning who to think with. And I appreciate your idea of rounding out of science, of course, is building upon itself, right?

It doesn't mean that it's not real or not true. Right. The idea that like evolution is a theory of gravity is a theory. It doesn't mean that it is somehow not true. Right. But it's built on  evidence over time. Well, I recognize evolution might be controversial, gravity shouldn't be , and that they're both theories should at least indicate something to us about the fact that these are based on evidence building over time that we can observe and potentially test.

And so, I think you're totally right that when we then move this forward to this question of like, there being a difference between opinion and fact. And again, governor Cuomo of New York's  saying  you're entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.


Julie Ancis: [00:32:15] Yes, he was quoting the late Senator Moynihan, Who said that.Exactly.

Social Media and the Echo Chamber

Adam: [00:32:22] Yeah, and  that quote does a really good job of encapsulating the social media issues there. Let's, let's definitely dig into this cause it's, it's that  as you noted too social media can operate as an echo chamber, right?

And that has to do with the algorithms and how it's set up and that it tends to show you, posts and also advertisements of things that you'd like, you know, that you have liked or that people that, you know, and then I think she wanted to see and the kind of learning from you over time. And then. that can have a reinforcing effect, right?

Or it's kind of like, I'm thinking of the familiarity bias too. It's like you tend to like things that you see more , not uniformly true across the board, but  we tend to do this as people. Oh, I, you know, I see this thing more often, so therefore I'm more familiar with it. It feels a little bit better to know it.

And as you noted earlier in the conversation, people are spending more and more time with these platforms, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and such.  So what is, what do we do with that? You know, we are living kind of in these echo chambers level, I think you're right that that further pushes us away from having a simplified sense of how do I know something is, is trustworthy, right? 

Julie Ancis: [00:33:27] Yes. Great question. So, I do want to say. There's so much positivity, right? That comes from our ability to connect online. Literally, especially now when we're often, many of us are in our homes and socially distancing, that it allows for kind of a connection unlike anything before. So it is pretty powerful and really important in terms of increasing our desire for and our need for social support but in terms of kind of answering your question, I mentioned you know, the fact that we’re disconnected from each other physically.

And thus, you know, transcending differences is more challenging, especially when you think about what kind of Facebook and Twitter, where it's kind of one liners or somebody posts something challenging, and then folks feel oftentimes the need to refute it or agree with it. It's kind of this one upmanship that occurs where in, one-on-one conversations or communications live in person, you're able to see that other person is a human being  and have sometimes a stronger desire to really connect and say, let's talk this out. Let's figure this out. It's more difficult online which relates to the idea of having kind of an online persona, this anonymity, or presumed anonymity of sorts or this protection that occurs psychologically when you're not face to face digital. yeah. 

You're asking me, what could we do about it? I think we need to, as much as possible, increase our opportunities or exposure to diverse viewpoints.

So knowing, as you mentioned, because of algorithms, we are in our echo chamber, so we're fed information consistent with our likes and our preferences and our values. And our personal connections on social media are often with those who are similar to us as well as important to know that and too, actively try to search out information that is different from yours.

Reading publications, news sources that differ from yours. I think it's important that we also fact check claims. The information we're getting on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter may not come from real organizations., or even individuals. And so it's important to check for the credibility of those claims to verify the identity of the author to the greatest extent possible, to read the about page on a website. To find out what organization created it. Search for more information about the author and the organization to determine, is this an authoritative source? That we learn to distinguish facts and science based claims from opinions.

This is why legitimate, newspaper sources have articles that are news and quote unquote, fact-based. knowing that there's bias in newspapers as well but they're very clear about having news pieces as well as sections that are dedicated to opinion, and opinion pieces are not necessarily fact.

Also, I think it's important that we're more aware of our biases, our cognitive biases, cognitive distortions that all human beings engaged in, where we look for information that is consistent with our previously held assumptions or beliefs. We can jump on that and we say, this piece of information validates my belief therefore, it's true. And all human beings engage in that behavior. That's, that's called confirmation bias. So understanding some of our cognitive biases. I think also really being honest with ourselves as human beings, that human beings have coping strategies, especially in very stressful times. And I would say this is a surreal, stressful time. And these coping strategies lead to kinds of sometimes distorting reality, as a protection of anxiety, you know, so it could manifest in right now, Yeah, it's not a big deal if I go outside. Right. And, interact with maybe five other friends. You know we all know each other and we, you know, I'm really, feeling quite lonely and having a challenging time as many people are. And that's a very valid situation. But then going as far as to say, you know, it's no big deal we'll probably be safe when there's not any basis for that. Or in fact, the science says quite the opposite. So those are some of the ways in which we could get to our science-based versus opinion-based information, influences our behavior. 

Adam: [00:38:59] Hmm. Yeah, thanks.  It's super important, right? That, I appreciate it. The idea that you brought up that both, we need to be aware of that people, everybody has confirmation bias. This is not just for someone that you don't like. Oh, you have a bad confirmation bias, but I don't. Right? We all have confirmation. Bias is in the idea that we seek out things that are consistent with what we, what we think about the world, right? And, and things that we observed too, right? I mean, it doesn't just have to be, Oh, I believe this, therefore I'm gonna look for it only. But it can be, I've always seen this thing, you know, granted I've perceived it a certain way, right? But then I look for things that can confirm that.

But it's important to realize that as everybody, it's not just the people that you don't like that would have this bias, right? And so. In this case, it's not necessarily biased like, Oh, this is a problem that we all have. Right? I know you're not saying this either, but just like for people to realize too, this is just saying this is the, we have a predilection, right?

We learn to find these kinds of things like beliefs or ideas that are consistent with us and social media is built on that, right? That's what it does. It serves the things that you essentially want to see. Because it makes you feel good. It gives you a little hit of dopamine when you get that new post and stuff.

I mean, there's a whole thing about user experience, about social media and like, Oh, they time when they give you stuff, new posts, so it keeps you on the site longer and things like that too. 

Being honest about Our Coping Strategies

But I also really think the idea that you said that we really should just be honest with ourselves, that we have coping strategies, right? And then we need to use them, especially in times like this, during the COVID crisis. And so like that again is not bad, but we do have to recognize at what point does our own need for coping with stuff like that it doesn't bleed into potentially causing somebody else harm or, you know, falsely thinking something is safer than it is.

Right? And it's, it's a tricky balance, right? Cause it's like, part of it is like, we don't want to tell people, Hey, you need to be thinking more when you're, you're exhausted at the same time, if you do need to be more vigilant. But I think, I feel kind of what I'm hearing too with what you're saying is like, the more we do this, it's kinda like a muscle, right?

You exercise it and it gets stronger and so that it becomes less effortful to have to like, exercise discernment. You know, once you kind of have a sense of what it is to think about something, from a scientific perspective or an opinion perspective. And I think the example you said was really great with the newspaper. Like there's, there's a reason they have the opinion section, right? Right. It is because those are the opinions of people. They're not fact-based news stories. They may be like, based on the fact that they've read, but it's like, here's my perspective of X, Y, and Z. So that's a really great simple place to start actually, is like, just recognize that news sites have these two different sections and that's, that's one place. It doesn't mean that everything else in there, of course, is not written by another human being. But, you know, this is, this is an organization's effort of doing some level of due diligence of just saying, well, these are the, these are the points that we're saying are based on somebody's perspective, an opinion versus just reporting of facts as a word.

And that's, that's a huge important piece and of course, to the other idea that is tricky about this is that social media sites, right? They have posts from friends on Facebook. We'll have posts about, Oh, here's something I'm doing for the weekend. You know, this weekend. I'm at home wearing a mask but if I elsewise I might be going into ice cream with a friend or something, you know, you could like a photo that you post or something. 

But, also you'll see postings of news articles, why somebody might post a CNN piece. Actually an example of this I think is quite interesting, and I want to give the person credit for asking this.Not that I'm the expert here, but they asked me if I had seen a documentary that was posted on their Facebook page. No, I looked at it, and, and so I went and checked it out and it was, it was actually one of the kinds of conspiracy theory stories around COVID that was, it was a movie documentary put on by the Epoch Times, which is a news outlet.

And then I knew there was something a little funky about it when I first opened it up and I watched the first five minutes of it. I already knew that Epoch Times cause it is something again, thinking about discernment. I was aware of them as an organization. and that they are run by the Falun Gong group.

And I'm not going to make any claims about these groups right now, but just the idea of being , I felt Falun Gong has a very explicit political agenda against communism and against China. And, the organization itself has that stance explicitly.

And so I knew without watching any more of the documentary that that's what this was going to be framed around, was this, this group's agenda. And so even this idea of like, what does it mean to, to check  an organization’s source. I mean, when you can still watch the documentary if you want to. It's not like you can't do that, but it is this idea of where is it coming from and who do they have?

And so this, when I was talking to this person, I just said like, well, you know, watch it if you want to. But yeah, you know, I'm just like, I can tell you from the outset, since we know that this is from this organization, you need to be aware like this is their political agenda. And then you can agree with that or not.

But this is not going to be some just, here's the facts of what we see happening, because it's going to be having some level of there if we want cultural bias there a political agenda part of it. 

Yeah,  I think one of the big tricks that I see happening out there , so saying all of that, if we just swap out the epoch times for CNN or the New York Times or Fox news. You see the same argument? You know, people say, well, this is just a biased news source. I think that's really hard. That's, I think, has done a lot to shift public trust in news sources, especially as they're getting shared around on social media of how do, you know, quote unquote, like, who one can trust, you know? And so it is, it's a really complex question. You know, if you had the magic bullet, let me know. 

Julie Ancis: [00:44:13] I know, I wish I did. I share your concerns. I share your concerns around, you know, what I would say is science really being de-legitimized. Hmm. And, that's worrisome to me or are those voices that are de-legitimizing science? Are those voices just louder? More in your face?  When you look at pew opinion polls. Most Americans have trust in scientists. But, what we're seeing is a real questioning of science based results and that's concerning. 

I also think what's concerning is, as you mentioned, the videos which are  directed, developed, produced by conspiracy theorists or those  with a particular political agenda, in mind that they're increasingly becoming more sophisticated, right? So, you know, they'll have somebody that they're interviewing, and the narrator, we'll say, this is an expert, which definitely influences. Or where you have, Lighting that looks very sophisticated and it's hard for most people to discern that this may not necessarily be fact-based. And there's just the video that I think you're mentioning and others are really propaganda based videos, really challenging to combat cognitively. Because usually propaganda has a certain percentage, right, that of information that's presented. That's true. That's fact based and then the rest is not, or you have these facts that become completely distorted. and then, you know, one so-called fact, is, is presented, and then another and another and another. And it's, you know, your mind starts spinning.

It's like information overload there. you know, what's true, what's not true. You know, it takes a long time to really figure out what was true here and what I saw or what I just read and what is not true. And, That's concerning. And we're gonna, I think, continue to see more and more of that you think about deep fake videos.

Adam: [00:46:50] Yeah, that's right. Yeah. 

Julie Ancis: [00:46:52] As well. and you know, figuring out sort of the psychology behind folks who develop that And what is the impact of deep fakes on, on people and society? So these are new cyber psychology related questions as well. It’s challenging to get a handle on all of it.

Tips for being well

Adam: [00:47:15] Yeah. And I think that's right.  I really appreciate some of the thoughts that you've shared so far. You know, what are some of the steps that people can begin to think about, right? How do we start wrapping our brains around what's happening to us in, in the land of cyber and the internet and the digital age, you know, cognitively, and how do we like, sort of think about, you know, things that seem so simple. Like, I'm getting information on the website.  I'm getting news from Facebook and how do I think about that? You know? So the other side of it too is, as we mentioned a little bit was like the idea of, of how do we sort of be mentally well.

During this, this kind of COVID time and increase in tech use. I wonder if we can kind of wrap our heads around a few of these ideas, like any tips that you have for folks. We've mentioned a few of them, you know, in terms of like, it's good to see people, but of course, no. In what context, right? yeah.

Safely. Right? So, so yeah. Is there any, any, any kind of tips you have for folks like, how do these, how do we stay, stay? Well in this time, attempt to return to wellness? I suppose if you're feeling a little off kilter. 

Julie Ancis: [00:48:07] Yeah. Well, most people are probably feeling five kilter, right? This is a time of incredible stress economically, vocationally, interpersonally. And you could also say trauma, that we're experiencing, that type of trauma that is exacerbating stress, depression, and other psychological challenges. So, my advice would be, you know, getting a handle on how we're using technology, our intent, and its effect and really understanding that. 

So, you know, asking yourself, How am I using this? What's my intention? Am I using technology now, to connect with others socially in a positive way? Where am I relying on it to kind of relieve my negative moods? Am I using it to numb myself? And to some extent that could be adaptive but, it could also be maladaptive uses if we're really relying on it. and that's where the effect comes into play. So thinking about, is this impacting my technology use, impacting my ability to sleep? That's probably the case for many, many people. impacting my ability to focus on other activities, to concentrate?

Am I finding it challenging to limit my use?  Is my internet use causing me to feel even further isolated or disconnected? And so thinking about those questions and if you're on yourself answering yes to some or, or many of these questions, consider more adaptive ways of using technology.

Which I think requires, a lot of discipline on our parts, today. And, trying to develop a greater sense of control over our engagement. Finding ways to moderate our consumption. So instead of checking the phone, for example every five minutes, and maybe you need to put it in another room, and be very disciplined about looking at that at certain times.

That's a challenge because much of this is addictive, intentionally addictive but it's really important to get some sense of personal control for our mental well being and our physical well being. As well, really consider it. How can we be more discerning consumers of technology in terms of the purpose, the content, the frequency of use, so it doesn't become maladaptive.

We're able to stay the course of more adaptive uses of technology, which actually reduce the stress, reduce the isolation by allowing us to other people. And there's so many, online learning experiences, educational experiences, even online entertainment, which helps to reduce stress and gives us a sense of purpose and meaning, which is really fundamental in coping with stress. This is the time when our sense of purpose, the meaning of life, is really called into question, if you will. For many, it's such a surreal experience that we are undergoing now with this pandemic. 

Adam: [00:52:00] I think that that's really important to that. Yeah. Idea of thinking of adaptive ways of using technology.

How does it help us adapt to our situation in essence, right? I like the idea that we could seek out and if there are sources of media that that sort of help promote thinking around meaning and purpose, which is right, fundamentally important always. But even more so in moments like this, when. when there's a lot of fear, a lot of stress and anxiety and the uncertainty, around what is happening to all of us. Right. and to us individually and to us and our families. And so, You know, it's like in an anthropological sense, technology is really anything that humans kind of develop or use to help us do something else easier, better. And like, obviously in this case, it's funny because technology is such an ubiquitous idea.

Like, you know, it can go from anything from, by using a rock too, crack, open it up all the way into like an iPhone that has AI, that can, you know, Siri that can, that can, you know, order food for you if you just talk to it. And so it's like, You know, when I think about the idea of maladaptive and adaptive technology, it's like, you know, I had to go with a rock and the rock can help me adapt to do things easier, but I'm like, there are maladaptive uses of this block technology also.

Right? and it's like, we just have to remember, like that's the same thing for our iPhones, right? It's the same thing for Facebook. and, and digital stuff too. Like there are, there are ways of using them that don't help us be well, right. Or they may actively work against us being well, like it's easier to say he didn't get hit by a rock would not do well for you.

But, we don't see that as much on Facebook or Twitter for just like, as you said, just checking your phone every five minutes, especially if it makes you feel more isolated, right. And reminds you that you are alone or that you feel alone is not helpful. and so I think that is very important to like, there are simple steps like that.

Like, it's okay to put the phone down and we probably all should do it more anyway. Just because they're, as you said, they're designed to be addicting devices. Right. They make us, they ping, they beep at us all the time. Right. I'm sure both of our phones have gone off 32 times while we're talking here.

Julie Ancis:[00:54:03]  Yeah, I turned off the alerts

Adam:[00:54:05]  Yeah. Me too, for that reason. Right,

Exactly right but I, I think you're absolutely right, this is the important time to , let technology work for you, you know?  As you're saying, I think so wonderfully is like building our awareness around that. Like just being aware that that's part of what this is, is like raise your awareness, you know, with the goal of getting to a critical thinker status, I was like, let me really, really be discerning about, I trust the sources that I'm looking at, you know, getting to that.

But, but starting with, I probably should just put my phone down for a little while. I was like , what am I using it for? Like pausing to say, what am I, why am I checking my phone right now? Do I really need to know if I got an email now, five minutes from the last time I just checked?

Probably not and that's okay. Right? It's okay , you know, the world doesn't stop when your phone's on airplane mode, you know?  And just being real to that, I guess is important because it's so hard right now. You know, too.  but that's why I'm glad that there are psychologists in the world that are helping , reminding us to think, to be aware of our both cognitive biases. But , then like, remind us to think about the idea of being adaptive with my technology, not just I like my iPhone.

It helps me do something in what that thing is, can be good or bad. Right. And  it's up to us to kind of be aware of that. But, You know, we're not alone in that. Like we all need to do that. And so it's like, in the same way that COVID might remind us that we're in this together, we can remind ourselves that we're in this together with technology too. You know, it's not just me versus Facebook. It's all of us and how we use social media. And to me, that gives me some hope, I guess. At least it ain't just me. I check my phone too much, but it's something that we're all grappling with.

Julie Ancis: [00:55:37] Absolutely. Yeah. I think it's really easy to feel that, you know, I'm the only one who's engaging in behavior that may be maladaptive or maybe seen as yeah pathological. Why can't I get a handle on this? Why can't I put my phone down? Why do I feel I have to check it? when I go to sleep, before I go to sleep and right when I wake up.

But understanding, as you mentioned, some of the addictive qualities  of this media, as well as understanding that, you know, this today is the way we connect to the world, which has been wonderful in so many ways in terms of one, efficiency of work in terms of being able to connect with people in every part of the globe. So that's wonderful but, you know, understanding that context  and seeing how that could result in challenges for all of us in terms of our behavior. Oftentimes adults, if you will, however you want to define adults. Talk about this younger generation of kids, you know, they're all addicted, right, to their technology, but the adults are as well. Right? 

Adam: [00:56:58] Yeah. 

Julie Ancis: [00:57:00] So, you know, being honest about how we use these rocks, if you will, as you mentioned.

Adam: [00:57:11] I think one of the really interesting things that we're finding here is, is like tech can be used in many different ways and, and you know, I don't want to give the impression that we're just here, like, saying all tech is bad and social media is not good for, people. because of course there's like a ton of really positive aspects that, that, you know, technology and social media and connectivity can have on our lives. And so I'd love it if you just kind of walk us through what are some of the positive aspects that we're seeing around technology use? 

Julie Ancis: [00:57:38] Sure, well there is research that talks about the impact of social media use and wellbeing. And there are several studies that have found that social media use has a positive impact on wellbeing, because it facilitates connections, social connections. And it could even enhance physical interactions, offline. It's also associated with perceptions of online social support, which in turn is associated with reduced stress and feelings of wellbeing. So those are all positive ways of using technology. We have more people using platforms, especially now with the current situation of physical distance saying, like zoom to connect with others online. and there are all kinds of ways to reduce stress. 

 I'm taking online yoga classes. I was not able to meet in person right now. I have engaged in online dance classes. There are some incredible online learning opportunities, educational opportunities, major speakers, folks are not able to actually see these people in person and a number of institutions have offered online educational learning experiences. Mostly free of charge. I don't know how long that's gonna last. Those are important in terms of not only connecting, but giving people a sense of purpose and meaning, which is so important now. 

Just a couple of days ago, I connected with around 10 to 12 second and third cousins that I never knew existed  and we did this over a zoom call. I'm not quite sure that would have happened if it wasn't for, you know, this horrible tragedy, this current situation. but also speaks to, the rise of technology and its accessibility and how. In terms of social connections and online learning 

Adam: [00:59:56] So I think that's really interesting. it's actually, that's super cool to hear that you're connecting with, with, cousins that you otherwise probably, you know, may not have done so. And so what's also really cool too is, there were, we're seeing more and more of that people are connecting with family members that they either didn't know existed or, you know, just checking in more.

But then also there's other like really interesting opportunities for learning and for like, sort of cultural events like music and concerts. Right. 

Julie Ancis: [01:00:20] Absolutely. There is no shortage of that and I'm a real music lover, music fan of all genres and that has been just incredible, not only listening to the music, but also this feeling of, you know, intimacy if you will, with artists, like never before. You know, an example of that, there's a jazz series at Lincoln Center and Wynton Marsalis has been providing discussions and talks. People call in, mostly musicians, and ask him questions, about playing an instrument, or music. And that's another opportunity that you would not necessarily have access to without technology.

There are classical music concerts, there are jazz concerts. There was a recent, duo, of, Jill Scott and Eryka Badu, or kind of playing their tunes and talking with each other throughout the music, telling stories, Questlove, of The Roots who's a musician and, really, has a very deep understanding of musical history and tradition of playing sets live for three to four hours and talking about stories related to musicians and, and the music to develop a better understanding of sound. So there are a lot of positive, benefits and experiences that have come out of advances in technology. 

Adam: [01:02:02]  Julie, this has been an amazing conversation. Thanks for taking us on this amazing mental and cultural whirlwind tour of cyber psych and  into domains of social media and information and really what it means to be well today. I think it's such an important question that is more salient than ever right now just because we have this unprecedented challenge in front of us and technology is, is both how we cope and adapt, as well as how we may do more maladaptive things. It's important, right? The tech is neutralized you're saying.

And so it's just like how we do that, how we see our biases, how we realize that it's part of all of us is so important, you know, and so, I wanna thank you for, for all the amazing work that you've been doing. And, I'm super excited to kind of see how the cyberpsych program develops, over time as well as just that, again the Psychology Today blog, I think is, is a really great place to connect  with people  in a place where a lot of a lot of folks know.

Right. You know, a lot of people I'm interested in psychology. Or just looking to get advice, looking to get some information out there is a really important thing. So that's just kind of a final wrap up thing I would, do you have any advice for people that may be interested in studying cyber psychology?

Advice for people looking to study Cyberpsychology?

Julie Ancis: [01:03:08] Yeah, well, I would suggest people take a look at the new program at NJIT. We have a brand new, bachelor's of science program, that recently was approved, which is designed specifically for students with an interest in the psychological and behavioral sciences. And emphasize. And besides, it's an applied approach. So this is a degree that students will receive that will allow them to acquire skills to pursue careers in a host of fields.

As we've talked about, cyber psychology really influenced so many different areas, including education. App development, security, cybersecurity, user experience, design, video game development, et cetera. So I'd encourage folks to take a look at the new bachelor's of science program in cyber psychology at New Jersey Institute of Technology as a start.

Certainly folks could look at my blog, The Cyber Psychology Page, the American Psychological Association has a conference now, every year related to technology,  minds, and behavior. And, technology, mind and society conferences  which brings together leading practitioners and researchers in the area. And that's another venue for learning about cyber psychology as well. So, this will continue, two explode obviously, right in the future.

Adam: [01:04:55] Cool. and so we'll link to, to the conferences and the blog and stuff, and enjoy it on the show notes, so folks can check those up if they like. And, yeah. So Julie, again, once again, thank you so much for joining me today. This has been a really great and enlightening conversation. Yeah. I feel better. I'm gonna go put my phone down after this. I'm going to leave it down, I guess is a better way of saying it, right. 

Julie Ancis: [01:05:16] At least for five minutes. 

Adam: [01:05:17] At least five minutes. Yeah, that's right. 

Julie Ancis: [01:05:22] Yeah. It start, you know, small steps, small steps, 

Adam: [01:05:27] And small steps is right. My guest today has been Dr. Julie Anci scholar and consultant blog and book author. And she was founding the new cyber psychology program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, which is really exciting. As always, I want to thank you for tuning in and please reach out to me and let me know what ideas stuck out to you as well as what you'd like to hear more of in future installments, you can DM me on Twitter  @ThisAnthroLife, or shoot me an email at thisanthrolife@gmail.com. 

I’ve been hearing from more folks lately, maybe because we're all stuck inside and hey, podcasting is a great way to learn something new and pass the time. But I just want to say that I really appreciate it. It's great to hear from you, your stories, what you're working on and ideas for episodes you want to hear in the future. We're truly in this together and building community is how we're able to help those who dedicate their lives to understanding the world, have more of an impact on it. 

In the meantime, keep it coming and check out a TAL adjacent project that I'm working on called Mindshare. You can see that over at mindshare.app. We host video conversations, panels and stories from across the human sciences that really help dig into different ways of seeing the world and again, helping those who dedicate their lives to understand in the world have more of an impact on it. We recently did a really cool conversation on astronaut anthropology and a panel on anthropological ethics as researchers in industry hosted by yours truly. Again, that platform is mindshare.app. So stay safe out there. My friends and we'll catch you soon. This is Adam Gamwell, and you're listening to This Anthro Life.