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Internet vs. hanging out:
CSULA team studies changing mode of socialization

Psychology professor coauthors paper on online and offline adolescent networks

With the increase in Internet use among teens, Cal State L.A.’s Psychology Professor Kaveri Subrahmanyam and undergraduate and graduate students in her Media and Language Laboratory are studying how offline and online networks may impact biological, psychological and social developments of today’s youth.

Photo of Professor Kaveri Subrahmanyam and her lab students.
L-r: Wendy Ochoa, Phuoc Tran, Kaveri Subrahmanyam, Minas Michikyan, and Araceli Castellanos.

According to a recently-published paper coauthored by Professor Subrahmanyam, “Adolescents spend much of their time online and many of their online activities are social in nature. They seem to use the Internet, especially social network sites, to support the development of intimacy and connection with others.”

The research article, entitled “Friending, IMing, and hanging out face-to-face: Overlap in adolescents’ online and offline social networks,” is based on in-person surveys that were administered by a group of CSULA students to 251 adolescents from three high schools in Southern California.

Out of the 226 online respondents who reported having email accounts, 65 percent reported using instant messaging and 88 percent had at least one social networking site, such as Facebook and MySpace.

Lab research projects

A separate research project conducted by CSULA students Minas Michikyan, Phuoc (Jimmy) Tran and Rogelio Carillo, in coordination with CSULA’s Psychology Professor Kaveri Subrahmanyam, is comparing the efficiency and effectiveness of print versus digital for reading comprehension and memory.

Also, another CSULA team—comprised of Professors Subrahmanyam, Marlene Zepeda and Simona Montanari and students Halima Baretto, Araceli Castellanos, Wendy Ochoa and Adriana Parrales—are delving into the study of how Spanish-speaking children learn English.

“Managing the dual language research project is an incredible learning experience that inspired me to pursue graduate school,” said Castellanos. “The Media and Language Lab gives you exciting hands-on research experience where you can grow as a scholar.”

The results also revealed that the top three activities on social networking sites are: responding to comments on a page or post, sending or responding to emails or invites, and editing profiles and updating status.

However, the data did not show that teens engage in high-risk behaviors, such as “friending” strangers or exploring adult content sites, but alternatively connect to people who they know offline. Subrahmanyam and coauthors Stephanie Reich of UC Irvine and Guadalupe Espinoza of UCLA suggest that online uses actually support the development of adolescents instead of subjecting them to the Internet’s inherent dangers. For abstract of this coauthored study: http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/dev/48/2/356/.

A developmental psychologist, Subrahmanyam is an expert regarding the effect of interactive media on children and adolescents, as well as on children’s cognitive and language development and second language learning. She served as co-editor of the special edition of American Psychological Association’s Developmental Psychology (vol. 48, no. 2, March 2012). Subrahmanyam, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology from UCLA, also published a scholarly publication, entitled Digital Youth: The Role of Media in Development. The book received a positive review from PsyCritiques.

“Using a developmental approach to study young people’s use of new media,” said Subrahmanyam, who is also associate director of the Children’s Digital Media Center @ Los Angeles, “I have shown that youth are using these new tools in the service of familiar adolescent concerns, but sometimes in new ways. Rather than being scared of their impact on youth development, we need to find ways to help youth use them in positive ways.”

Stemming from this published study, CSULA students Tyler Hachtel, Minas Michikyan and Thomas Staunton—who are working under the direction of Subrahmanyam in the Media and Language Laboratory—will further examine specifically how newer digital communication tools are mediating adolescents’ daily interactions with their close and more distant peers, and consequently transforming notions about adolescent friendships, intimacy, and well-being.

Working collaboratively with the Children’s Digital Media Center @ Los Angeles, the team looks forward to incorporating some of the latest technological devices (e.g., smartphones, e-readers, tablets, etc.) into their studies.

“I believe that the knowledge acquired from new and more established measurements, and the use of various mediums, will truly revolutionize how we study human behavior as it relates to media use,” said Michikyan. “I am especially proud of our recent work concerning Facebook use and the implications for youth development and psychological well-being. On a more personal note, this opportunity has allowed me to be part of groundbreaking projects and to become friends with fellow researchers and well-respected scholars in the field.”

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Last Update: 03/16/2012