How is technology changing psychology?

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Joe Dispenza
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Technology and psychology have always gone hand in hand. In fact, the study of these issues is also addressed in the various specializations of psychology. If we take a look at the history of psychology and technology we will find that many psychologists, psychiatrists and neurologists have invented their own devices based on the technological advances of their time.

In the XNUMXth century, for example, Franz Mesmer, an Austrian physician, used magnets to try to alleviate mental disorders. He then created his famous "health pool", a wooden vessel in which two rows of bottles filled with magnetized water flowed towards a steel bar fitted with movable conductive tips. The patient applied one of these tips to the painful area. He also used to have people sit holding hands around this tub to transmit the magnetism from one to the other.



However, it was only in the nineteenth century when the passion for technological devices was unleashed in Psychology, mainly those used for measurement and limited to laboratory use. Such is the case with the plethysmograph, which could be considered the precursor of CT and measured changes in brain volume in people with head injuries.

Also in this period the kymograph appeared, the precursor of the lie detector (polygraph), which was introduced in the early decades of the twentieth century, and still used today to measure the changes in physiological parameters when the person is exposed to certain stimuli. .

Now Psychology is facing the new challenges posed by digital technology, the advancement of the Internet and mobile telephony, as well as the use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, the new horizons that are changing not only the way of communicating, but also to perceive the world and to live.


Technology and Psychology: Computerized testing has become the norm

Once upon a time, psychological tests were performed by hand, with pen and paper. The psychologist sat in front of the person and applied the various tests. But now many of those tests are done on the computer or directly on the mobile phone. This saves time and many people report feeling less nervous as the presence of the psychologist made them uncomfortable.


In the field of research, the possibility of remote testing opens up new horizons, since it is thus possible to collect more data in less time. In fact, many of the major studies involving thousands of participants are built from online surveys that people can fill out anywhere in the world.

Obviously, this new way of gathering information also implies that the psychologist cannot offer help and see how the person reacts. In this way the tests do not analyze the potential, but concentrate on providing a more or less certain picture of the present. Therefore, it is essential to correctly formulate the questions, structure the interview well and choose the most suitable online tool to create the questionnaire. This reduces the risk of people abandoning the interview in half or gathering information that is much more difficult to analyze.

The "Big Data" gives a boost to the new branches of Psychology

Before each science followed its own path, the results of research did not transcend that field. But today, with Big Data, the vast ocean of data produced by each of these studies can easily be stored in such a way that huge databases can be accessed where different behavioral variables can be analyzed and cross-referenced.


This possibility, which has not existed until now, has allowed the development of disciplines such as neuroeconomics and neuromarketing. Indeed, it paves the way for the realization of more complete meta-analyzes in which it is possible to access a huge amount of data that offers conclusions closer to reality, starting from the analysis of the behavior of hundreds of thousands of people. In this way it is also possible to better understand how they react and under what circumstances in order to design more suitable treatments.

Therapies can be offered on the internet

It is no longer necessary to physically go to the psychologist, just have an Internet connection and you can receive the therapy comfortably at home. When the case is not very serious, many psychologists offer the possibility of carrying out some online sessions or even the entire treatment. Thus geographic barriers fall and people who have difficulty moving around do not have to give up treatment.


This new form of therapy also favors those people who were afraid of being seen entering a psychologist's office, as there are still many stereotypes about respect. In addition, there are online programs in which people can remain anonymous and clarify their doubts or receive guidance.

Of course, online consultations also have disadvantages. For example, the psychologist will have difficulty reading extraverbal language and may therefore overlook significant details. In online psychological sessions it is possible to acquire visual clues, but there are limits, it is not possible to see as many emotional signals as in a face to face meeting.

It is also more difficult to establish the relationship necessary for therapy and to make the person feel comfortable and supported. Nonetheless, a recently published meta-analysis revealed that online therapy may be as effective as traditional therapy for treating depressive disorders, anxiety and phobias.


Healing in the world of virtual reality to heal in real life

Virtual reality is rapidly gaining ground in psychological therapies, particularly in the treatment of ailments such as anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress, where it has already proven its effectiveness. In fact, a meta-analysis that included 13 studies comparing the use of virtual reality with traditional therapy and which included nearly 400 patients, concluded that this tool is not only more effective, but the results last longer in the weather.

The key is that virtual reality takes advantage of our fear and confusion, a state that triggers a strong emotional response that changes the way our brains work, preventing us from detecting those small details that would indicate that we are not in a real environment. All this happens in just 12 or 15 milliseconds and, even if the situation that the person lives in a virtual environment is not real, the same physiological and psychological mechanisms are activated, so that the inadequate response can be corrected with extraordinary effectiveness. .


Additionally, virtual reality has a higher acceptance rate than systematic desensitization and in vivo exposure, since around 27% of people refuse to undergo traditional techniques simply because they are too afraid. Conversely, only 3% of people refuse to use virtual reality, because they know they can face their fears in a safe and controlled therapeutic environment where they can decide when to stop.

Furthermore, most modern virtual reality systems allow the psychologist to control exposure to therapy at all times, adapting the experience to each patient's level. It is also possible to monitor the physiological constants of the person to know exactly the level of anxiety and to ensure that it does not increase excessively.

Would you tell your problems to a robot?

However, the changes already taking place are not the most interesting, but those that will come in the future. Right now, 6% of smartphone apps in healthcare focus on mental health. Many of these claim to become a "digital coach" who offers the person the necessary orientation to deal with his or her disorder or improve certain areas of his life.

Finally, engineers are already working in a new field called "affective computing" to make machines learn to grasp our emotional states and react accordingly. So maybe, in the future, you might find yourself telling your problems to a robot.


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