How do online interactions shape our social world?

The Centre for Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (cSCAN) is hosting a debate 26-27 October 2017. This year’s debate topic will explore the question of whether online social interaction has any unique implications for human interaction and human nature, or whether it is just "interaction as usual". The debate will also explore how research and application inform each other. For example, what can experimental social psychology contribute to our understanding of social media use, and what can studies of social media use contribute to our broader understanding of human social behaviour? We are excited to have distinguished speakers who will contribute their expertise in different aspects of technology-mediated social interaction to the debate.

The debate will be held over two days, with longer talks given on the Thursday and the debate held on the Friday.

‌Does the online world really increase the size of your social network?

Robin Dunbar (University of Oxford)

The size of our offline social networks are limited in part by time constraints (relationships require the investment of a great deal of time) and in part by cognitive constraints (we can only handle so many relationships at any one time). I shall argue that the online world cannot (yet!) cut through these natural constraints. Instead, what the online world does very well is to allow us to keep up with friends whom we would lose track of very quickly once they have moved away. Whether that is a good thing is an issue for discussion.

Robin Dunbar is the director of the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group (SENRG). His research gives insight to how humans have managed to create large scale societies using a psychology that is evolutionarily adapted to very small scale societies, and why these mechanisms are less than perfect in the modern world, raising implications for the design of social networking sites as well as mobile technology.

Is screentime bad for kids? Busting myths in the case of autism

Sue Fletcher-Watson (University of Edinburgh)

The media regularly publish stories about the negative consequences of “too much” screentime.  Increases in technology use have been linked to poor learning outcomes, obesity, delayed motor development and lack of empathy in children  All of these anxieties are amplified when considering the case of autism. In this talk I will analyse research evidence on the benefits and risks of increased technology access in the context of child development. I will consider both the quality and weight of evidence for various common concerns relating to the use of digital tools among children, and reveal how novel mobile technologies are making a positive change in the lives of children on the autism spectrum. ‌

Sue Fletcher-Watson is a Chancellor's Fellow in the Patrick Wild Centre at University of Edinburgh. She studies how children develop and learn, particularly in cases where this follows an unusual trajectory, such as autism. She specialises in how technology, such as iPads, may be used as a support and learning tool.

How Behaviors Spread:  Diffusion in Social Networks

Damon Centola (University of Pennsylvania)

Damon CentolaThe strength of weak ties is that they tend to be long – they connect socially distant locations. Research on “small worlds” shows that these long ties can dramatically reduce the “degrees of separation” of a social network, thereby allowing ideas and behaviors to rapidly diffuse. However, I show that the opposite can also be true.  Increasing the frequency of long ties in a clustered social network can also inhibit the diffusion of collective behavior across a population.  So, what does this tell us about how does social connectedness will influence social change?  Can online networks influence the growth of new forms of collective behavior?  Here, I explore how changing the pattern of connections among strangers can give rise to surprising patterns of collective behaviors. For behaviors that require strong social reinforcement, such as cooperative, normative, or complementary behavior, successful diffusion may depend primarily on the width of bridges between otherwise distant locations, not just their length.  I present formal and computational results that demonstrate these findings, and then present an experimental test of the effects of social network topology on the diffusion of behavior.

Damon Centola is an Associate Professor in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is Director of the Network Dynamics Group. His research interests include social networks, social epidemiology, and web-based experiments on collective intelligence and cultural evolution.


The Empirical Foundation of Media Psychology: Standards, Old and New

Andrew Przybylski (University of Oxford)

The promise of building an empirically-based understanding of how we use, shape, and are shaped by technology is an alluring one. It is also an important scientific goal as our lives are increasingly mediated contexts that are themselves changing and advancing. Attempts to realise this goal have largely failed to materialise as the study of these contexts are happening at the same time concerns have been raised about the integrity of the empirical foundation of psychological science, such as the average statistical power and publication bias (Schimmack, 2012), availability of data (Wicherts et al. 2006), and the rate of statistical reporting errors (Nuijten et al. 2015). Currently, there is little information to which extent these issues also exist within the media psychology literature. This talk will focus on a recent attempt to provide a prevalence estimate in this area and is comprised of findings from a survey of availability of data, errors in the reporting of statistical analyses, and statistical power of all 146 original research articles published in the Journal of Media Psychology (JMP) between volumes 20/1-28/2. The talk will then detail one recent attempt to take incremental steps taken towards scientific transparency and empirical rigour will help us realise the promise of understanding technology effects.

Andrew Przybylski is an experimental psychologist based at the Oxford Internet Institute. Since 2005 his research has focused on applying motivational theory to understand the universal aspects of video games and social media that draw people in, the role of game structure and content on human aggression, and the factors that lead to successful versus unsuccessful self-regulation of gaming contexts and social media use.


Debate Moderator

Christine Caldwell (Stirling University)‌

Christine A. Caldwell is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Stirling. Her primary research focus concerns the evolutionary origins of human social learning and cultural evolution, which she approaches using a range of laboratory-based experimental methods. Her study populations include nonhuman primates, adult humans, and children.