The Effects of Computer Usage on Social Isolation
 
Student Researchers

Brittane Blose, Joanna Breitstein, Abigail Fairman, & Craig Lowenstein (BA Students)
This paper is based on a project from an undergraduate research methods course.

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

Introduction

The introduction of online applications has enabled us to keep in touch with people in far-off places, have new research and information readily available at our fingertips, and transform the world into a global village. While the informational aspects of the computer are fairly well-documented, the consequences of the computer on an individual's social well-being are less widely understood, even as computers are changing the dynamics of human interaction and relationships. Researchers claim that the computer, or more specifically, the internet, helps unite people who share a common interest and create a community. Other researchers, however, maintain that social isolation may occur as a result of less face-to-face communication. This study seeks to add further information to this body of research by examining the relationship between amount of time spent on the computer and social isolation.

Hypothesis

Based on prior research, it was hypothesized that the amount of time spent on the computer would be positively correlated to the degree of social isolation.

Method

A total of one hundred and thirty two respondents were selected using a systematic random sample. Each respondent was given a survey which had items pertaining to amount and type of computer usage, as well as questions related to social isolation and some demographics.

Results

The dependent measure of social isolation was divided into four factors called 'Outgoing,' 'Non-Confident,' 'Trust in Friends/Human Nature' and 'Busy Body.'

The results do not support the hypothesis. In other words, there is no relationship between computer use and social isolation.

However, there were some other interesting correlational findings. Outgoing respondents tended to send e-mail more frequently than less outgoing respondents. Also, those respondents who spend a lot of time on the computer tend to seek out the opinion of others for advice.

Conclusions

While the results indicate the lack of a relationship between amount of time spent on the computer and social isolation, there are other interesting results (as mentioned above) that offer interesting explanations. Since outgoing respondents send e-mail more frequently, it might indicate that they are more social, and even less socially isolated because the computer is now being used as an additional means of communicating socially with others.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University