Cyberpsychology is an emerging field that examines the impact of mobile, new, and emerging technologies on human behaviour. Cyberpsychologists are interested in human interactions with technologies and the application of psychological principles to these interactions. Our lab is consistently working towards applying and extending cyberpsychology theories, concepts, and hypotheses to all the work we do.
Social media are popular, ever-evolving Internet-based applications that people use to create content, exchange content, share content, and connect or interact with others. People who use social media produce large amounts of data on these services that could be beneficial for researchers studying a wide range of individual and social phenomenon. However, sound research methods for using social media as a passive research tool are only beginning to emerge.
Dr. Shaughnessy collaborated with Drs. Colin Robertson and Ketan Shankardass from Wilfrid Laurier University, Rob Feick from the University of Waterloo, and Martin Sykora and Suzanne Elayan from Loughborough University (UK) to develop Stresscapes – an ontology for Twitter that captures people’s level of stress experienced or described in Tweets. While doing so, we also proposed a Unified Ecological Framework to account for the many ways people’s physical and digital worlds connect to impact their well-being.
We are using the new method to improve knowledge on how people experience and express emotions and stress, and the complex relationships between these experiences and their social context, geographical environments, and wellbeing/health. For example, we are examining community health and resilience and the emotional content related to the #MeToo Movement. The #MeToo movement became popular in 2017 and involved people across the world sharing their experiences of sexual violence. The movement began on Twitter and then moved to other online platforms.
Status: Manuscripts published; Manuscript preparation; Data analyses.
Funding: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2014-18); Saint Michael's Angel’s Den (2018-2020).
We continue to seek partners interested in new applications for this tool or to collaborate on data-triangulation (i.e., connecting with other data sources) projects. For a representation of our work with this research method, please see:
The Social Tech and Physical Distance Study (STPD) is an online survey study to examine adults' use of technologies for social connections during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. We have collected data at three different time points, and we will use the data for multiple manuscripts/sub-studies. We will complete the diffusion of findings on STPD in Winter 2021. Additionally, we have been using participants' answers to share tips, tricks, and ideas on how to use technology during COVID-19 on our social media (Twitter: @uoINSITE and Instagram: @uoinsite).
Status: Manuscripts in preparation; Conference presentations presented and to be presented.
Ghosting is a relationship dissolution or breakup strategy which involves cutting off all contact with a former partner and by ignoring their attempts to reach out, without providing an explanation. Although ghosting is a term that is frequently used in pop culture, few researchers have empirically assessed ghosting. Two members of the lab supervised by Dr. Shaughnessy, Caitlyn and Erin, conducted a study to examine the extent to which people’s beliefs about the moral acceptability of ghosting varied depending on the contexts of the relationship in which ghosting occurred, and the individual levels of interpersonal anxiety.
Status: Manuscripts in preparation; Conference presentations completed.
Cybersexuality is the intersection between cyberpsychology and sexuality. It is a broad term to refer to theory and research from varying domains of inquiry on human sexuality that includes the use of technologies, or content, media, and communication via technologies. Cybersexuality research can be about how people use technology for sexual purposes alone or with others, and what the outcomes of these are. It can also be about about how technologies and media influence and are influenced by sexuality phenomenon such as sexual culture, beliefs, experiences, consent, development, atypical or illegal sexual behaviours, etc. E-health and mobile-health related to sexuality, technology tools for education or sexual pleasure, and technology and sexual attractions all fit within cybersexuality.
In the INSITE lab, we focus primarily on technology-mediated sexual behaviours and their role in people’s lives. We aim to assume a neutral stance in our approach to understanding these.
Technology-Mediated Sexual Interactions (TMSI)
Technology-Mediated Sexual Interactions (TMSI) is a term we coined in the lab (Courtice & Shaughnessy, 2017). It refers to any interaction with specified other person(s), that occurs via communication technology, and includes exchanging, sending, or receiving self-created, sexually explicit content. TMSI integrates sexting (i.e., sending, receiving and/or exchanging photos, videos, auditory messages, text messages through a cellular phone) and cybersex (i.e., sending, receiving and/or exchanging photos, videos, auditory messages, text messages through Internet-based platforms) with phone sex, virtual sex, avatar sex, and haptic sex. All these technology-based activities incorporate the same behaviour: exchanging self-created, sexually explicit content through communication technology.
We are developing a comprehensive measure that includes all forms of TMSI for research use. We have completed a literature review, cognitive interviews, pilot survey, and expert survey for the English measure. We are collecting psychometric data and translating the measure to French.
Status: Data collection; Translation.
Funding: University of Ottawa Seed Funding (2017-18), Bridge Funding (2020-21).
Graduate students in the lab are leading studies on approach-avoidance motivations and TMSI, and non-consensual TMSI.
Online Sexual Activity
Online sexual activity (OSA) refers to any behavior or activity that occurs via the Internet and involves sexual content or stimuli. Our published and ongoing research on this topic is focused on improving understanding of non-problematic, or recreational use, of OSAs. We are developing reliable and valid measures to better study these types of online activities and using these measures to examine people’s attitudes, experiences, and outcomes of OSAs.
In previous research, Dr. Shaughnessy and her colleagues have demonstrated that OSAs include separate categories of non-arousal (e.g., seeking sexual information online), solitary-arousal (e.g., viewing erotica or pornography online), and partnered-arousal (e.g., sending sexually explicit messages or pictures to another person using email) activities. In addition, she found that students’ definitions of cybersex, and people’s reported cybersex experiences represent a subtype of partnered-arousal OSAs that occur in real-time, and involve sharing detailed descriptions of sexual activities, fantasies, or desires whether or not self-stimulation accompanies the activity. Our published and ongoing research suggests that many people engage in these activities but do so relatively infrequently, and that most people who participate in partnered-arousal activities – including cybersex – do so with a primary committed partner.
Dr. Shaughnessy is a founding faculty member of The Sex and Anxiety Research Group (SAX-RG). The SAX-RG is currently supported by the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). SAX-RG research focuses on the relationship between anxiety and sexual response, including the role of social anxiety in technology-mediated sexual interactions (TMSI; sexting, phone sex, or cybersex). You can learn more about the SAX-RG by clicking here: https://socialciences.uottawa.ca/sex-anxiety-research-group/.
As part of the SAX-RG, Dr. Shaughnessy (PI) and many of our members are actively working on a scoping review to explore how people higher in social anxiety may use new and emerging technologies for sexual interactions or communications. We will follow this review with an exploratory survey focused on the extent to which TMSI is helpful or harmful for people high in social anxiety.
Status: Scoping review in progress, pre-registered on osf.io.
Funding: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Development Grant (2019-2023); Faculty of Social Sciences Research Groups (2018-2021).
Inclusive Research Methods
We strive to continuously inform ourselves about inclusive research methods and how to apply them. As a lab active in sexuality research, we have developed questions that allow us to capture a wider range of sexual diversity (e.g., gender, sex, sexual orientation). We have also adapted sexuality scales to strip them of their heteronormative structure. Other variables we are trying to measure more respectfully and accurately involve visible minority status (e.g., racial identity) and invisible minority status (e.g., sexual identity).