The Social Psychology of Cyberspace: Self and Community in the Age of the Internet

PSY 380.K
Miami University
Spring Semester, 2000


Dr. Richard Sherman
110D Benton Hall, ext. 9-2407 or 9-2400
A copy of this syllabus and other course materials can be
found at:

        "...we are in the middle of the most transforming technological event since the capture of fire." (Barlow et al., 1995)

          "...we are lying to ourselves about the renaissance the computer will bring. It will bring nothing. What it means is that the neocortex is finally eating itself." (Robert Bly, 1996)

          "...cyberspace isn’t a world all its own like Jupiter or Pluto -- it’s a funhouse mirror of the society that breeds it." (Bruce Sterling, 1997)

General Description

    This seminar will focus on two related aspects of the impact of the internet in modern society: changes in the nature of self identity and reflections of those changes in the quality of social relationships, especially relationships that entail a sense of community. There seems to be little doubt that computer-mediated interaction will soon be a central feature of everyday working and leisure environments for many people, and already has achieved that status for some of us. What is not clear, however, is the extent to which the psychological and social implications of this shift toward a "cybersociety" are positive or negative. Strong and competing claims have been made about impact of computer-mediated interaction on society and on the individual for instance that the internet (and its newest instantiation, the world wide web) represents a powerful force for democratization and humanization of communities versus the view that it is a tool for invasive social control and that it dehumanizes social relationships. With respect to the individual, some have heralded the internet as a means of facilitating the development of self efficacy and self esteem, while others have argued that it fragments the self and promotes disingenuousness.

    The goal of the seminar will be to enable participants to understand the dynamics of virtual experience so that they may achieve an informed personal evaluation of it and may put their virtual experiences to best personal use. We will first survey the history of computer-mediated interactive technology and consider the social context of its development. Next, we will critically examine current theory and research on a number of specific topics that illustrate the particular impacts of the technology in terms of self and community. These will include the development of norms in virtual communities, the nature of cyber-social support networks, the dynamics of on-line communication, power and status differentials in computer-mediated communication, self-definition/expression/exploration in multi-user domains, internet addiction, social and personal implications of electronic gender-switching, internet humor, and the nature of friendship and romance on the net. Finally, participants will complete both individual and team projects that will focus on questions of virtual experience and impact as related to risk and application.

    It is assumed that participants will develop a deeper understanding of the issues being examined if they directly experience certain aspects of internet technology and computer-mediated interaction. Accordingly, our class discussions and projects will often be centered around experiences and information gained from the world wide web, and the results of our investigations will be communicated via a class world wide website which students will help create. The website will remain in place after the course has ended, thus giving seminar participants an opportunity to have a lasting impact on others. Advanced knowledge of computers is not a prerequisite for the course, but a willingness to carry out web assignments and to acquire new computer skills is essential.

Course Organization and Evaluation Process

    The seminar format of the course will involve heavy emphasis on critical discussion of readings and other materials. Discussions will be led by teams of students who will work together to facilitate the examination of issues and views by the class. In addition, participants will complete a team project and an individual project that will represent in-depth examinations of a particular aspect of the social psychology of cyberspace. Topics for both projects will be student-initiated, with guidance from me. The team project will involve creation of web pages that communicate the results of the teams scholarship. The individual project will focus on a topic of personal interest and will culminate in a written term paper, with an extended summary that will be published on the course website. In addition to the discussions and projects, there will be several web assignments during the semester that will involve reading material published on the web, searching the internet for examples of concepts, interacting with classmates or with others electronically, and sharing critical evaluations of personal web experiences.

    The weights of the various components in determining your overall course grade are as follows:

Leading of Discussions (Team): 20%
Term Project (Team): 30% (See Guidelines)
Term Project (Individual): 30% (See Guidelines)
Web Assignments (Individual): 20%

    Team components will receive an overall evaluation, but team members may receive different grades depending on their individual contributions. A separate handout will give details of this procedure.

Grades: Grades will be based on the percent of total possible points earned for the various components of the course, weighted as shown above.  Course grade cutoffs are as follows:

97 - 100% = A+
92 - 96% = A
89 - 91% = A-
86 - 88% = B+
79 - 85% = B
76 - 78% = B-

73 - 75% = C+
64 - 72% = C
61 - 63% = C-
58 - 60% = D+
53 - 57% = D
50 - 52% = D-



    The readings for the course are contained in a packet that is available from Oxford Copy shop.  Assignments for each week are listed on the accompanying class schedule.  Because the nature of the course is largely discussion based, it is important that everyone read the assigned materials before our class meetings.  Be prepared to stimulate discussion by sharing a brief (2-3 sentence) quote from each article that you regard as central or important.

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Psy 380.K Miami University. Last revised: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 17:14:23. This document has been accessed 1 times since Jan 1, 2000. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman . Also See: Social Psychology at Miami University