flowing motion

What psychologists can learn from social media

Posted on: June 16, 2008

Still rapt

Image by bowbrick via Flickr

Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion

I was trained as a psychologist and I ultimately trained thousands more in the same tradition.

To qualify as a psychologist, in most jurisdictions, we are required to master the art of the “lab report”.  I had done A level Physics, so the format wasn’t unfamiliar to me.  Indeed, the whole rigmarole was based on 19th century physics which psychologists were copying madly.

I don’t think it is bad thing to learn to write a lab report.  I studied Latin too.  Disciplined methodical thinking is important and if you learn how to follow one method, you realize that you can learn to follow any method.  And it is much much easier for students to write up experiments and surveys than handle qualitative studies which are usually too demanding for the 20% 6 month load that most students have allotted to the task.

Holistic Thinking

That said, we have to unlearn a little too.  Psychology leaves us two unfortunate ways of thinking. We are analytical – we break people into parts.  And we are trained to believe that what we are studying is separate from us – a thing.  Most unfortunate when we are talking about people.

A few years after we qualify, we generally stumble over the insight that we have to retrain ourselves to look at a set of data, not as data, as but as a person with hopes and fears, history and future, and most of all a purpose and morality that is not a reflection of our purpose in the interaction.

Even harder to do, is to understand that we are not separate from the person we are “testing”, “counseling”, or “coaching”.  We have our own stories, yes.  But why should ours be sacrosanct or privileged and totally unaffected by the person with whom we are working?  And, can that ever be?  Can it ever be that two people in the same room, or reading a blog post written by another, don’t share some past and importantly some future?

What psychologists can learn from social media

We are affected by our clients.  In the realm of social media, marketers are struggling with the same idea.  I found this excellent quote:

“To succeed in Web 2.0, your site cannot be an optional layer added to people’s lives.  It must be inserted directly into the lives of the consumer.”

If we we are in their lives, how can it be that they are not in ours?

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3 Responses to "What psychologists can learn from social media"

I’d debate ‘inserting’ what I do into people, and replace it with ‘allowing people to make it part of their lives’, but I totally agree with the sentiment.

And I think there are so many areas where psychology will be invaluable in developing our understanding of social media. While I hypothesize about humanity’s need to connect, for example, I suspect there is lots of psychological work which would back up, or destroy, what I’m saying… But I just don’t have the knowledge

Point taken, Dan. It rather illustrates my point that I didn’t notice.

You are right about our need to connect. We are intensely social animals and do best in supportive company. For those of us who aren’t religious, and maybe for them too, meaning tends to be people.

Psychologists, though, have probably researched lack of connection more than connection – hence the recent upsurge in “positive psychology” – the study of what is good rather than the conventional study of the absence of what is good.

I was persuaded by your personal story that social media is taking us into a new level of social organization where we can initiate and shape our “identity” and “connections” as never before – requiring us to think make choices.

Thanks for stopping by.

[…] In social settings, purpose is contested. The way we act reinforces or changes hierarchies, rights and privileges. I am always wearied by professionals who believe they are not part of this process. We are making the future as we take part, as we are made in the way we take part. […]

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