Sophie Wilkinson | Contributing Editor | Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Lily Allen’s Right When She Says The Internet Can Psychologically Harm You

The Debrief: Seriously, we spoke to an actual psychologist, who said there is no way of actually finding out the full extent of the ways it gets to us...

Following one too many stories about her on the MailOnline Lily Allen tweeted this:

But is the internet really that damaging? We spoke to internet psychologist Graham Jones to find out.

The Debrief: Hi Graham, so Lily Allen has said that the internet can be psychologically damaging. What do you think?

Graham Jones: The first thing is it appeals to our internal reward system, where our brain likes to do things so we get a reward. For most people, those who aren’t addicted to the internet, the wonderful thing about the internet is it constantly fills that reward system.

The second is that there are problems with internet interactions, because some of it misses a vital part of communication, the non verbal. Even on the phone we subconsciously pick up on each other’s tone, but online you can tweet something thinking it’s hilarious, but if someone doesn’t gauge the tone, they might not agree.

READ MORE: Here's Why Feeling Sad Can Be Good For You

DB: What about when you see so much stuff online that’s just really depressing and sad?

GJ: Studies show that people filter out what they don’t want to see, they’ll pick out the names and topics they’re interested and ignore the rest. It’s a bit like watching the news. It’s very depressing, the world’s ending and all of that, but we actually end up feeling good because we see bad things happening to other people and not ourselves.

DB: What if that stuff is unrelentingly sad?

GJ: Some very empathetic people will be affected by those negatives; it comes down to personality types. But then, the more of these things we see, the more desensitised we become. The one thing the internet is doing is showing everybody the extent of the variation of human life. It shows us there are nasty people out there, something that certain professionals – eg police, social services – already knew. It can be shocking for some people to see things like that. When they see these things, if they’ve got empathy, they will try to want to do something about it. Even a comment on Facebook to show a level of support. That can help them feel better about the situation.

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DB: What about information, full stop – are we just getting too much of it? What are the long term effects of that?

GJ: The amount of stuff that’s written down doubled from the year 1800 to the year 1900. It was then doubling at the rate of every 50 years. Now, the estimate is that of all the stuff written down in the world, there will double that amount by the end of 2015. We’re surrounded by this constant stream and our brains are not geared up to cope with that information. We’ve evolved to deal with much less information and how our brains are meant to cope is not known yet. What we do know is we’ve got pretty good filter mechanisms to process it.

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DB: What about really horrible people, like, say, Katie Hopkins, who we compulsively hate-read?

GJ: People say they never want to see Katie Hopkins again, but that means their subconscious attention system will bring it up. It’s like me saying, ‘Don’t think of an elephant.’ But because you are aware of it, you think of it.

DB: How do we make ourselves feel better about the inundation of horrible things that we see every day?

GJ: One way to train your attention system is to focus it on things you do want to see. Eventually the bad things will pass you by without you realising they were there.

So basically, it’s not a question of ignoring the bad, it’s about championing the good.

Like this? You might also be interested in:

There's A Celebration Of Sadness Happening Online And You're All Invited

Stranger Shaming: How Being A Woman Eating On A Tube Got Me 12,000 Online Haters

Here's A Story We Can Get Behind: Wasting Time On The Internet Is Officially Good For You

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Tags: Lily Allen, Science Says, Twitter