Can Social Media Change the Field of Psychology?

Posted by Zach Maurin on July 23, 2009

Yesterday morning I was watching a segment on MSNBC about the much-discussed rescue of a four year old boy and a woman from a burning car, which was captured on video. But something struck me about the discussion:

Host Dylan Ratigan had psychologist Jeff Gardere on as a guest to discuss the rescue and what types of people assume various roles in a moment of crisis. They discussed the person who tries to save the victim is community minded and cares about others, not just their families but looks out for others they don’t even know well (paraphrased).

But then this is where I thought the discussion started to get more interesting.

Ratigan asks the Gardere: “Who comes upon the scene and sees a four year old burning potentially in a vehicle, and thinks to themselves, ‘I’m not gonna go help, I’m not gonna call 9-1-1, but I am gonna get myself a camcorder, or some such device, because this is awesome.’” ratigan

And there is where I began to question the discussion a bit and began think about it.

Gardere’s answer: “This is the voyeur, this is the person who has no real connection to anyone but themselves and they want to see how they can capitalize on that particular situation. This is the same person who will be on the highway who will cut you off because it’s for their own comfort. This is the same person who will cut in front of you on a movie line because they want to get their first. It’s all about them. So they don’t care what happens to someone else.”

Watch the video clip here.

If we assume Gardere’s analysis is informed since he’s a psychologist and guest on a major network, could social media and online video change the way that people are analyzed and defined in certain situations? A video is no longer confined to your living room and can be shared across the web. If someone had fled the scene, the video could be distributed to the community to help identity the car. Or if you want to celebrate heroic acts, you can share that, too.

Is it possible that if you see someone getting robbed, the most helpful thing to do might be to record it with a video phone for the police and community members to help find the assailant? Gradere and Ratigan don’t seem to recognize that a) video cameras are more and more rapidly accessible – it’s not as if everyone has to run instead and dig out a bulky camcorder, and b) there are different ways people connect these days because of technology and social media; recording other people is not necessarily voyeuristic or selfish.

It is VERY fortunate that the right people were around to save the young boy and the woman.  And there are certainly situations where taking action is more important than recording it.  But I do wonder if tendencies and generalizations that psychologists often draw about types of people based on their reactions to a situation are affected by the ubiquity of technology and its increasingly social capabilities, as seen here.

Social media if changing our views of political campaigns, social change, government transparency, and more.  Could it not also change the field of psychology?


One Response to “Can Social Media Change the Field of Psychology?”

  1. psychologythatworks said

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