Abstract: Since the dawn of the Internet era, researchers, policy-makers and the general public have questioned how new technology is influencing our psychological well-being. This talk will review research I’ve done with students and collaborators over the past 18 years to cast light on this question. Our earliest work in the 1990s indicated that more Internet use, independent of type, predicted increases in depression and declines in other measures of well-being. However, later research demonstrates that whom one communicates with online and the nature of the communication are the important factors, not Internet use per se. In Facebook, for example, receiving targeted, composed communication from strong ties predicts improvements in well-being, while viewing wide-audience broadcasts, receiving one-click feedback, and receiving composed communication from weak ties does not. In online health support groups, it is messages exchanged in public that predict improvements in well-being, while private message exchanges predict declines.
Professor Kraut is a social psychologist with broad interests in the impact of computing and telecommunications on individuals, groups and organizations and ways to design them to improve human lives. He has conducted empirical research on online communities, the social impact of the Internet, the design of information technology for small-group intellectual work and related topics. Starting with his HomeNet project, he has spent over 15 years conducting research to understand how people’s use of technology influences their psychological well-being and personal relationships. His research on online communities combines careful empirical studies of communities with interventions and design ideas to improve them. This approach is illustrated in his book with Paul Resnick, Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-Based Social Design. His most recent research focuses on ways to improve productivity and creativity in online production.