2017 SCRA Biennial

OTL will be at the 2017 SCRA Biennial!

Today I am heading to the 2017 SCRA Biennial in Ottawa, Canada. This year’s theme is “Transformative Community Psychology,” and SCRA attendees are encouraged to critically reflect on where further progress is needed in society as we share our own work.

This will be my second time attending a SCRA Biennial, but it will be my first time in Canada. As usual, there are plenty of sessions to be excited about, and you can view them here. If you are interested in the work that we’re doing here at the Online Technologies Lab, however, look no further than the Social Sciences Building: FSS 1030 from 2:30 to 3:45pm on Friday, where we will be presenting some of our research in a symposium alongside some really talented folks at the University of California-Irvine. Here’s some information, for those interested:

2017 SCRA Biennial: Making connections, online and offline: Community psychology and technology

The concept of “community” is multifaceted and has undergone changes as communities themselves have experienced transformation throughout history (Krause & Montenegro, 2017). Thanks to the internet, communities can expand beyond physical spaces much more readily than previously (Reich, 2010). As of January 2014, 87% of American adults use the Internet (Pew Research Center, 2014), and Internet use is up across income groups (Madden, 2013). Similarly, video games have increased in popularity: about half (49%) of all American adults have ever played video games (Duggan, 2015). The most recent statistics suggest 54% of frequent gamers play multiplayer games; these gamers spend on average 4.6 hours per week playing with others in person and 6.5 hours per week playing with others online (Entertainment Software Association, 2016). In fact, 53% of these gamers feel that video games help them connect with friends and 42% feel they help them spend time with family.

Technologically mediated interactions are increasing through computers, cellphones, tablets, and gaming systems (Pew Research Center, 2014). Technology is profoundly changing how we create and interact with knowledge (Wesch, 2009) and possibly how we build and maintain personal relationships and communities. This symposium explores the ways our online and offline worlds intersect in varying capacities and the ways technology is influencing our means of interaction. Drawing on a qualitative synthesis of community psychology research conducted on online communities, a study of the experiences of mental health providers playing video games designed to enhance empathy for persons with mental health disorders, and logged data of in-vivo computer and phone use, we shed light on on characteristics and impacts of digital relationships and communities. Taken together, these presentations highlight an exciting avenue for new research and intervention strategies for the communities in which we work.

Toward the future: A review and call for research on online communities
Crystal N. Steltenpohl, Jordan Reed, Christopher B. Keys (DePaul University)

Over the past five years, interest in the online world has increased as internet use has skyrocketed across most demographic groups. Community psychologists have a distinctive opportunity to explore the various manifestations of the internet’s influence on how we interact with one another and form communities. This presentation briefly explores what we have learned so far by qualitatively reviewing and synthesizing 20 articles across four categories of research on online communities published in community psychology journals between 1997 and 2015. These four categories—community support, community building and maintenance, advocacy, and communication patterns—reflect a promising start to understanding how we can utilize the internet to build and enhance communities, but also how much further we have to go, both in understanding online communities but also certain concepts in community psychology more generally. Many articles drew parallels or comparisons with offline spaces, and other explored questions like how online communities may provide social support for those who find it difficult to find offline support, how online advocacy might influence offline advocacy, how online sense of community may map onto or influence offline sense of community, and how communication patterns we have seen in offline contexts might be recreated in specific online contexts. Research conducted in community psychology up until this point has provided a starting point for understanding online communities, and we provide some guidance for future study, including potential research questions, research methodologies, and areas for interdisciplinary collaboration.

Playing for understanding: Inducing empathy for persons experiencing mental health disorders through video games designed for embodied experience
Jordan Reed, Crystal N. Steltenpohl, Christopher B. Keys (DePaul University)

Community psychology regards empathy and compassion as fundamental to the work of the discipline (Cook, 2012). Community psychologists examine the experiences of persons facing stigma, as well as ways to reduce the impact of stigma as an obstacle to health and happiness for a number of populations (Fife & Wright, 2000; Jason & Richman, 2007; McDonald, Keys, & Balcazar, 2007; Parker, & Aggleton, 2003; Rudolph, 1988; Schnittker, 2007). Stigma experienced by persons with mental illness has wide ranging consequences, and even comes from therapists themselves (Shattell et al., 2006; Shattell, Starr, & Thomas, 2007). Researchers are developing and investigating computer games designed to enhance player empathy for marginalized populations (Belman & Flanigan, 2010). The prospect of using games such as these offer a unique promise, as games provide an exceptionally accurate and consistent relationship between an individual’s in-game behaviors and the rewards and punishments a designer intends (Ceranoglu, 2010). Games facilitate a version of embodied experience in recipients (players) that lies somewhere above “moving images with sound” and below “actual experience” (Bogost 2007, p.34). We discuss the experiences of thirteen mental health providers while playing four video games designed to enhance empathy for persons with bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, and anorexia nervosa. Participants reported that these games facilitated an embodied experience of the motivations for pathological behavior, and that they elicited strong emotional reactions that align with the experiences of the disorders depicted. Participants further suggest that these games be used with family and friends, as well as mental health trainees. Participants also offer reflections on areas of improvement and game design weaknesses. We explore how to identify what elements of a game help induce empathy for marginalized populations, and suggest opportunities for their future use in community work.

The Impact of Social Gaming on Mood and Stress
Melissa N. Callaghan, Joanna C. Yau, Stephanie M. Reich, Yiran Wang, Gloria Mark (University of California Irvine)

Connecting with people who share common interests and goals is foundational for establishing a sense of community (McMillan & Chavis, 1986) and has been linked with positive feelings of support and happiness (Barber & Callaghan, 2010). For years, adolescents and emerging adults have been forming these connections through cooperative and competitive play on computer-based gaming platforms (Wohn et al., 2010). Additionally, with the growing web-based capabilities of phones and laptops, young adults can take their gaming network with them wherever they go (Lane et al., 2010). This study compares how social gaming, with a mobile community of players, and individual play impact mood. Specifically, we explore how mood and stress are influenced by participating in collaborative multiplayer games, compared to not playing or using single-player games. Using phone and computer log data that captured college students’ use of games, and hourly self-reported mood ratings of participants’ affect and stress levels, we identify the emotional impact social and non-social game apps can have on users throughout the day. 124 young adults (51% female; 18-26 years old) participated for one week, collectively documenting 8,617 mood ratings (mean score of 69 per participant), with over 90 different games. At the mood rating level, we control for factors such as whether the rating was collected during the weekend, and at the individual level, we controlled for factors such as ethnicity, gender, and year-in-school. We estimate participants’ mood and stress ratings after using social game apps and single-player game apps using multilevel linear modeling. The positive emotional impact social communities can have (Barber & Callaghan, 2010) suggests that social games would be associated with better mood and lower stress. Therefore, we strive to identify whether collaborative games may be useful for increasing happiness and reducing stress for young adults throughout the day.

The Effects of Constant Connectedness on Stress and Well-being: An Ecological Momentary Assessment Study
Joanna C. Yau, Melissa N. Callaghan, Stephanie M. Reich, Yiran Wang, Gloria Mark (University of California Irvine)

Cell phones enable college students to easily connect with others throughout the day, thereby increasing opportunities for social support and companionship. As social connectedness and support increase well-being and buffer against stress (Cohen & Wills, 1985; Valkenburg, Peter, & Schouten, 2006), our study explores, through ecological momentary assessment (EMA) and unobtrusive logged data, whether the use of messaging apps on mobile phones is associated with college students’ mood. Specifically, we tested whether affect was more positive and stress lower if participants received a text within the preceding five minutes. Students (n= 124 students; 51% female; 18-26) participated in this weeklong study. We installed the AWARE Framework onto participants’ phones, which logged their use of messaging apps (e.g. text messaging, Whatsapp, KakaoTalk). Participants were prompted every hour to report their mood and stress level. We obtained a total of 8,617 mood ratings (M= 69 ratings per participant). We then connected the EMA rating to whether a messaging app was used in the preceding five minutes. Using hierarchical linear modeling with mood ratings nested within individuals, we estimated whether the use of messaging apps prior to the mood rating predicted higher ratings than moods lacking a preceding message. We included covariates at the mood rating level (e.g. whether the rating occurred during the weekend) and at the level of the individual (e.g. gender). These same variables were then used in a second model to predict whether the use of messaging apps reduced stress. We expect that mood ratings following the use of messaging apps would be higher and stress ratings would be lower; previously, instant messaging has been found to reduce negative affect (Dolev-Cohen & Barak, 2013; Gross, 2009). Our study explores whether constant access to a support network by means of messaging improves mood and lowers stress for college students.

If you are also at the 2017 SCRA Biennial this weekend, I hope I run into you!

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