PhD in Psychology
from Fielding University
For Jon Cabiria, entering the field of media psychology launched him into a whole new reality. While traversing the virtual terrain of a new cyber-world, he discovered its remarkable potential to literally change lives.
As a PhD student in Fielding Graduate University's distance learner program, Cabiria stumbled into online social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, and virtual worlds - specifically Second Life.
“Once I got in there [Second Life] I discovered what an unpolished gem this was - ripe for research and public good,” Cabiria said. “I saw it as more than a game. I saw it as more than an approach to role play; I saw it had significant potential to actually help people.”
He focused his research on how marginalized people can overcome fear, low self-esteem and depression by creating a virtual community of support often lacking in the real world. He worked with people in wheelchairs, gay and lesbian individuals, and the hearing impaired. He had them create avatars – cartoon images of themselves – to look any way they wanted. Then he had these new identities participate in an online, virtual world.
For the disabled who decided to leave behind their wheelchairs in the virtual world, it was the first time in their lives that their identities were something other than "someone who is in a wheelchair." The hearing impaired had a similar experience. By using text to communicate, they didn't have to face others to use sign language or read lips, so their virtual friends didn't know they were deaf unless they chose to reveal this fact. Now they could develop identities separate from their disabilities.
These virtual identities and experiences caused the "wheelies" - what the wheelchair participants called themselves - and the hearing impaired individuals to feel better about themselves. Overall, they were happier and more positive, Cabiria said. They had found a safe haven, meaning a place they could go especially when having a bad day. Psychological research has proven that positive attitudes provide coping skills and resilience, and indeed their real lives greatly benefited from their virtual lives.
Second Life has a number of special interest groups, so Cabiria had the gay and lesbian participants enter virtual communities in the online world where they felt welcomed. These individuals felt lonely and isolated before Cabiria’s study, but after only a short time, Cabiria noticed a marked change in these individuals. Like the disabled participants, they also felt better about themselves, but Cabiria noticed something else. These individuals also recognized that when they turned the computer off, they were back to feeling bad again. They suddenly realized the negative state of their real lives, so decided to make positive changes in their real lives.
Cabiria said that when he started the research project, he fully expected the participants to feel better about themselves. But what he didn't anticipate was that the gay and lesbian population would find that the gap or dissonance between what they felt in the real world and what they felt in the virtual world was so great that they felt compelled to change their lives.
"I didn't expect to find the therapeutic benefits of the virtual world," Cabiria said.
Based on his research, Cabiria took his 17-year-old business, Jon Cabiria & Associates Consulting, in a new direction. After getting his degree in media psychology in 2008, he started consulting with both individuals and organizations on identity issues.
People often find themselves acting or behaving in ways that are not authentic or true to themselves, which leads to depression, dissatisfaction and feeling dissociated. Cabiria said this loss of authenticity happens in marriages, families and workplaces. As a personal coach and advisor, Cabiria takes individuals into a virtual environment to discover their true identities. These clients use a social networking tool to discover what works and what doesn't. He describes the tools, such as Facebook or Twitter, as "living laboratories" in which to find unity with other people. This gives these clients the inner strength to implement these lessons in the real world.
Currently, Facebook reports more than 250 million active users, with 30 million active users currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices. And Twitter continues to add users daily. The marketing firm eMarketer estimates that there are currently about 6 million registered Twitter users, and those numbers are expected to double by the end of 2009 to 12.1 million users. Total users are expected to rise again by another 50 percent in 2010, bringing the numbers to roughly 18 million registered users. These numbers only reflect Twitter's registered users, not the possible millions who simply go online to read tweets.
The enormous growth of online social networks has taken the world by surprise, and corporations and businesses are no exception. Cabiria's company helps businesses and organizations figure out how to benefit from these online social networks. Still working under the old marketing paradigm, many companies don't understand how social networking differs from the old-school forms of advertising.
"If you want to build a relationship with your customer, it has to be a personal relationship in an online environment," Cabiria said. "With online social networking, what customers don't want to hear is you telling them how great your product is. People get that all the time from e-mail pop ups, newspaper ads, commercials and billboards."
Cabiria said the companies that personalize the messages on social networking tools are the most successful. These companies have an employee of the company use Twitter or Facebook or any of the other tools to talk not only about the company but about his or her own life. It's the most mundane comments about someone's day, like getting stuck in a traffic jam on the way to work, or eating burnt toast for breakfast, or being kept up all night by a crying child, that interests people, Cabiria said. Or a person's humorous views on different topics.
To those critics who say that it's these random, inconsequential statements that promote egocentricity and talking in "sound bites," Cabiria counters that these critics should notice what people talk about in face-to-face conversations.
"People don't have these deep, meaningful conversations over and over and over. They talk about the simple, everyday things," he said. It's these mundane things that keep people connected, that satisfy their psychological needs for community and social interaction, Cabiria said. For businesses that have an individual that others can relate to, either ethically or based on common likes, that is a powerful connection.
He cited a psychological principle called the "Halo Effect," which states that if people like one thing about someone, then it's likely that they will like other things about that person too. So if someone within a company espouses ideals that customers can relate to, then by extension customers will find value in the company's products, too.
When Cabiria entered the field of Media Psychology, he had no idea where it would lead. His established business now has a new direction, and his resume now includes additional credentials - he also works as an international speaker, teacher, and educational course developer. As for the outlook for those looking at getting a degree in media psychology, he only sees the opportunities "going up and up."
Technological advances are happening faster now than they were 10 years ago, he said. That only means more "mediated communications," which are conversations that take place over technological devices. Some of these new technologies might seem like science fiction today, but tomorrow could already be old news, Cabiria said laughing.
Learn how you can enter the new and growing field of Media Psychology by contacting schools offering Master's programs in Media Psychology. You may also transition into media psychology after earning a PhD in another psychology field, so contact as many schools as you can who offer PhD programs in psychology to learn more about their programs and your options.
Also, learn more about the psychology career licensing processes and what the requirements for licensure are: Psychology Career Licensure.