Students examine the mental health impact of digital spaces in PSYCH 531: Psychological Effects of the Internet

Professor Morton Gernsbacher

Students take [a closer] look at the mental health impact of digital spaces in Psychology 532: Psychological Effects of the Internet. The first step is examining “moral panics” over past inventions. This includes Scientific American’s 1859 claim that chess “robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while at the same time it affords no benefit whatever to the body.”

“Sounds a bit like the fears over video games, doesn’t it?” quips Professor Morton Gernsbacher, who developed the course in 2014. In 2023, she makes sure it covers ChatGPT, the generative AI tool that started the “Will chatbots take my job?” panic of late 2022.

Gernsbacher hopes that students finish the course with a balanced view of the internet’s psychological effects.

“Like all previous inventions, there are more and less beneficial aspects of the internet,” she says. “It’s important to avoid moral panic and use critical thinking to evaluate the claims.”

To help students cultivate critical thinking skills, Gernsbacher highlights evidence that’s slightly counterintuitive: that fewer teens are bullied online than in person, and that psychotherapy can be just as effective in a Zoom room as it is in an office suite.

Read the full article, Courses on the Cutting Edge, in OnWisconsin