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Title: Detached lives online : understanding the relationship between mental health, well-being, and the online environment
Author: Worsley, Joanne Deborah
ISNI:       0000 0004 7656 7548
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2018
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The work contained in this thesis aims to explore the interplay between the online world and mental health, with a particular focus on identifying features of people's lives that confer vulnerability or resilience in the context of the online environment. Qualitative and quantitative methods were both used to establish the factors that confer vulnerability to specific problematic internet experiences, namely excessive social media use and cybervictimisation, or resilience to the negative outcomes of such experiences. In an attempt to better understand the psychology that underpins excessive social media use, attachment theory informed a quantitative study that aimed to illuminate why certain people use social media excessively (Chapter 3). Attachment anxiety was found to be positively associated with problematic social media use, whilst attachment avoidance was negatively associated with problematic social media use. Together, these findings suggest that attachment anxiety is a vulnerability factor and attachment avoidance is a protective factor in the context of social media overuse. The data further indicated that there was a significant indirect effect of attachment anxiety on problematic social media use via general feelings of well-being. In an attempt to develop a lifespan model of problematic social media use, the work focused on a psychological understanding of the link between childhood trauma, attachment insecurities, depressive symptoms, and problematic social media use in Chapter 4. Results revealed a history of childhood maltreatment was associated with more problematic social media use. Both insecure attachment dimensions (attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance) mediated the relationship between childhood maltreatment and problematic social media use in series with depressive symptoms. The model presented in Chapter 4 highlights novel environmental factors and psychological processes involved in the etiology of problematic social media use from a developmental perspective. In addition to illuminating the psychological factors that underpin excessive social media use, the work explored whether specific factors confer vulnerability to cyberbullying victimisation or protection against its negative effects in a sample of adolescents (Chapter 5). Victims of cyberbullying experienced higher levels of depression and anxiety and endorsed self-statements indicative of attachment anxiety more than non-victims. Positive coping styles, secure attachment, and higher levels of perceived social support from peers attenuated the positive relationship between cyberbullying victimisation and symptoms of depression and anxiety. In Chapter 6 qualitative methods are used to understand the psychological and interpersonal harms of being stalked via electronic means through the voices and experiences of 100 cyberstalking victims. Through a thematic analysis of their written reflections, this Chapter demonstrates that the emotional impact of cyberstalking predominantly includes comorbid depression and anxiety. The findings further reveal that the relationship between cyberstalking and mental distress is influenced by the prevailing resilience or vulnerabilities of the victims. Social support was found to be particularly helpful in the context of cyberstalking; however, when some victims sought help from significant others, it appeared to increase, rather than decrease, the negative impact of the cyberstalking ordeal. Adaptive coping styles such as the ability to cognitively reframe thoughts may enable the re-establishment of some emotional control and lay the course to a more resilient path; however, less adaptive coping styles appear to be a common response to cyberstalking victimisation. Overall, this body of research has contributed to our understanding of the relationship between the online world and mental health, and has identified risk and protective factors. The research presented here moves understanding forward by connecting up the increasing concerns of society regarding social media to the psychology that underpins them. The work further contributes to our understanding of the factors by which people's psychological adjustment is protected against the adverse effects of negative online experiences. In doing so, it supports well-being policy recommendations that should, in time, decrease the ill-effects of online lifestyles on future young people.
Supervisor: Corcoran, Rhiannon ; Wheatcroft, Jacqueline ; Eames, Catrin Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral