North Wales Management School - Wrexham University

Emerging technologies in psychology

Posted on: November 23, 2022

Technology impacts or influences virtually every aspect of modern life. From people’s personal interactions and relationships to their working lives and their health, technology plays a part. And as technology has grown – rapidly developing and changing, with new technologies regularly emerging – so too has its influence on the field of psychology. 

In fact, technology has helped shape some of the most important advances in modern psychology, such as improvements around psychological:

  • education.
  • assessments.
  • diagnoses.
  • treatments.
  • research.
  • knowledge-sharing.

Significantly, technological advances have made an impact on both sides of psychology’s metaphorical coin. For example, research shows that technology can influence people’s well-being, mental health, and even the way people think – and these influences are not always positive ones. On the other side, though, technology can greatly aid psychologists as they work to explore, understand, diagnose, and even treat mental illnesses.

“Psychologists have an important role to play,” says psychologist Tara Behrend in an American Psychological Association (APA) article, “both in developing these tools to accomplish positive changes for people, and in understanding the outcomes of technology on things like health and well-being, life satisfaction, productivity, interpersonal relationships, education and health care.”

What technologies are used in psychology?

Technology and psychology have a long history together, and even before the 21st century, technology such as computers, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, and electroencephalogram (EEG) machines were commonly used in the field.

Today, new instruments are increasing the reliability and validity of psychological data, granting psychologists more precise measurements and accurate, replicable results. Meanwhile, improved computer processing power and databases mean that researchers and other psychologists can store and process huge amounts of information, from patient data to innovative, evidence-based research.

Robotics and big data are also good examples of how new technologies can benefit the field of psychology, with the the American Psychological Association reporting that some psychologists are working with robotics designers to make electronic helpers more relatable for humans, while others are “jumping into the world of big data—using techniques for collecting and analysing large data sets to uncover patterns, trends and associations that might not otherwise be apparent.”

How can technology be used in psychological treatments?

Digital technology has played a huge role in advancing psychological treatment, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic when many people were often unable to attend traditional face-to-face psychotherapy sessions. 

Alternative forms of treatment may include:

  • Teletherapy. While teletherapy might suggest telephone therapy, Psychology Today defines it instead as online therapy – mental health services and counseling that are provided via the internet or phone, rather than in person. This can even include a hybrid approach, with a combination of video calls through tools such as Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype, as well as text messaging, phone calls, and in-person sessions.
  • Apps. According to Mind in the UK, apps can be helpful tools for managing mental health. Apps range in terms of purpose and support, but can help with everything from mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), to finding out more information about available services or booking a new appointment with a GP. 
  • Virtual reality (VR). VR can be used to help treat a number of mental health disorders, such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For example, the NHS has used VR to help people with social anxiety overcome anxious social avoidance by completing, in a virtual environment, tasks that would be otherwise triggering in the real world in real time. Through this treatment, patients are able to gradually overcome their anxiety and build up their confidence.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is very much a still-emerging area of psychology, but an encouraging one. According to Psychology Today, researchers are already using AI algorithms “to improve predictions, diagnoses, and treatments for mental illnesses. The intersection of machine learning and computational psychiatry is rapidly creating more precise, personalised mental health care.”
  • Video games. In recent years, there have been huge developments in electronic games – both for consoles and via apps for mobile devices – that are focused on improving people’s mental health, particularly among adolescents. There are also a number of studies that show a link between gaming and good mental health. For example, one recent report found that 84% of respondents agreed gaming has positively impacted their mental health over the past year, while 71% said gaming helped them feel less isolated.

How can technology be used in psychological research?

New technologies are greatly helping psychological researchers, particularly in the area of data gathering. Thanks to new technology, researchers can now collect information through:

  • the internet and social media. Finding study participants is easier than ever before, with researchers no longer restricted by their geographic location.
  • self-reporting via computers. Self-reporting online via computers – rather than the old pen-and-paper method – is cheaper, more convenient, and better for data analysis.
  • wearable devices. Wearables such as fitness trackers and smartwatches are great for gathering quantitative data. They are more convenient for study participants – who don’t have to self-report – and provide more accurate, reliable data for researchers.

What are the pros and cons of technological developments in psychology?

The benefits of emerging technologies in psychology

The advantages of new technologies in psychology include:

  • Cost. Digital technologies are often cheaper than traditional methods, reducing costs for both psychological researchers and clinicians who work in clinical psychology practice.
  • Convenience. Digital tools and techniques are often easier to use and understand.
  • Reach. Online technology is more accessible, reaching more people and helping them to get the mental health services they need.

The disadvantages of emerging technologies in psychology

New technologies have a lot to offer psychology, but it’s worth remembering that they cannot wholly replace the human expertise of a trained psychologist. For example, even a sophisticated AI machine cannot replicate the true empathy of a human being.

What impact does technology have on human psychology?

It’s clear that technology has a huge influence on psychological practice and research, but it’s also true that it has a huge impact on human psychology itself.

These changes can be as simple as the brain learning to read just the keywords in an online story, rather than the full-text article, or can be far more significant. There are numerous links between technology use and worsened moods, as well as overall lower life satisfaction and other health issues. There are also human-computer interaction meta-analysis and neuroscience articles that explore, from a neuroscientist perspective, the connection between the use of technology and changes in human behaviour, cognition, and even neurons themselves. 

What is the future of technology in psychology?

While it’s difficult to predict just where digital and information technology will take psychology in the years to come, paradigms are already shifting. Some experts believe that technology will likely support new tools for interventions and well-being measurements within the field. Others suggest that online clinics will become more commonplace, and digital assessment and treatment will likely merge. 

Learn human psychology and how to apply it effectively in the workplace

Turn your passion for psychology into a career advantage with the 100% online MSc Psychology postgraduate degree at North Wales Management School, part of Wrexham University.

This flexible master’s programme includes a core module in emerging technologies in psychology, so you’ll explore contemporary emerging technologies and techniques applied within psychological research. You’ll also gain a practical and pragmatic understanding of their application, as well as knowledge regarding the advantages and disadvantages of these contemporary techniques.