Chapter 7 — CLaims & Ratings
Overall: This chapter’s central claims concern the impact of technology on human empathy. Like the technology discussed, much of this research is new. However, many of the claims in this chapter—about both the positive and negative effects of technology on empathy—are well supported. The most controversial claim of this chapter, accordingly, is whether increased technology and Internet use increases or decreases empathy. As the other claims indicate: It depends on how we use it!
Claim 7.1: Increased technology/Internet use is associated with decreases in empathy.
When technology and Internet use supplant face-to-face interaction, they leave people less sociable and less likely to interact with those around them. However, in other cases, Internet and social media use can make people more empathetic and open-minded. In other words, online experiences can either increase or decrease empathy, depending on whether they replace or supplement other types of social interaction.
Claim 7.2: Internet anonymity encourages cyberbullyng.
Although cyberbullying is a relatively new phenomenon, very strong research supports the idea that online anonymity plays a critical role in cyberbullying, and that anonymous online interactions make cyberbullying more likely.
Claim 7.3: Internet echo chambers encourage and reward extreme and emotional views.
Though research on social media sharing and the internet is relatively new, findings indicate that more emotional social media posts are shared or liked more often. Furthermore, extreme viewpoints are also likely to be seen and shared; thus, social media rewards and reinforces emotional and extreme content.
Claim 7.4: Virtual reality experiences can decrease stereotyping and discrimination.
Although research on virtual reality is relatively new, there are a handful of well-conducted studies suggesting that virtual reality is an effective tool for reducing stereotyping and discrimination. This effect has been observed in studies looking at racial and age-related stereotypes.
Claim 7.5: Virtual reality can build empathy.
While research on virtual reality is relatively new, a handful of studies suggest that virtual reality paradigms can be powerful tools for building empathy. Embodied experiences in virtual reality have been shown to increase charitable giving, help individuals with autism gain greater emotional understanding, and increase maternal empathy.
Claim 7.6: Online communities can provide meaningful and helpful support to their members.
Although more rigorous research is needed to assess the degree of benefit provided by online support communities, particularly in comparison to other forms of support, there is substantial evidence that online support groups provide measurable and meaningful benefit. Online support groups provide benefits in a wide-variety of situations, including to people suffering from chronic physical or mental illness and caregivers of sick or elderly individuals.
Claim 7.7: Giving to others helps the helper, making them happier or more fulfilled.
Many review papers and several meta analyses provide evidence in support of the fact that generous pro-social action is associated with increased well-being on the part of the giver. This effect has been observed for both giving time and effort (volunteering) as well as giving money (donating to charity), and positive outcomes include greater happiness and psychological well-being and, in some cases, beneficial health outcomes.