Archive for the ‘Online Surveillance’ tag

Online surveillance and how psychology is related to it   no comments

Posted at 11:52 am in Psychology

This week I will look at online surveillance and how psychology is related to it. Online surveillance has been a hot topic in the last couple of years.

During the Arab Spring, many Middle-Eastern governments have been accused of tracking down (potential) opponents and arresting them because of their online activity. Also, the revelations by Edward Snowden about the NSA have led to more attention to how the Web can be used as a tool of espionage. The rise in these kinds of activity show similarities with 1984, by George Orwell. This book describes a society wherein the government continuously watches and monitors its population. With the rise of the World Wide Web, people have put more and more information about themselves online. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly interesting for different (authoritarian) governments to ‘watch and monitor’ this information. Herewith, they can potentially control their country in an Orwellian way by arresting people who might potentially be a threat for them.

Of course, citizens are also becoming aware of the omnipresent online surveillance by governments. If they hear about people that have been arrested because of things they have posted on the Web, they might alter their (online) behaviour. From a psychological perspective, it is interesting to see how the mind and behaviour of people is changing because of this. Their response can be compared with psychological experiments, wherein the term social interference can be used to refer to such a response. This effect is a decline in performance when observers are present (Gray, 2007: p. 502). With an increasing notion of online surveillance, which might have consequences (i.e. physical punishment, imprisonment or worse) for a certain way of behaving, a citizen might become less (visibly) active online. This could be seen as a decline in performance.

This response can also be seen as the outcome of anxiety, which according to psychological terms can be seen as the mental situation when people worry excessively about a “stimulus or event that are vague, not identifiable, or in the future” (Gray, 2007: p. 590). When one does not know what future dangers may lie ahead, but expects consequences for certain actions, behaviour can change.

Social interference and anxiety are just two topics that can be used to look at online surveillance from a psychological perspective. Still, it offers many other perspectives to look at the subject. The approaches that I described earlier in a blogpost (biological, behaviourist, cognitive, psychodynamic, and humanistic) can for example all be used to look at online surveillance in a different way.

Next time, I will look at how online surveillance can be studied from the perspective of computer science. Also, I will look at how psychology and computer science can be combined to study online surveillance.


Gray, Peter. Psychology. Fifth Edition. New York: Worth Publishers, 2007.

Written by Gert Van Hardeveld on November 26th, 2013

Tagged with ,

Psychology in a nutshell   no comments

Posted at 9:02 pm in Psychology

This week I have been looking at the basics of psychology. After I talked to a friend in the Netherlands, who studies psychology, I came to the conclusion that the book ‘Psychology’ by Peter Gray would be a solid introduction to the discipline and could introduce me in an appropriate matter to the subject. I scanned over the 654 pages of the book and learned about psychology’s basic methodologies and research fields.

On the first page of his book, Gray states the following:

“Psychology is the science of behavior and the mind. In this definition behavior refers to the observable actions of a person or an animal. Mind refers to an individual’s sensations, perceptions, memories, thoughts, dreams, motives, emotional feelings, and other subjective experiences.”

(Gray, 2007: p. 1)

After this formal definition, Gray continues with explaining that there are three foundation ideas for psychology. The first idea is that behavior and mental experience have physical causes, the second that mind and behavior are shaped by experience, and the last is that the machinery of behavior and mind have evolved through natural selection (Gray, 2007: p. 2).

These foundational ideas are explored by using different research strategies. Gray recognizes three categories in which these strategies can be ordered. The first is research design, wherefore experiments, correlational studies, and descriptive studies are needed. The setting is the second category. Herewith, one must think of either field or laboratory research. Finally, the data-collection method is important. The basic types are self-report and observation (Gray, 2007: p. 29). Another important factor of psychology is the usage of statistical methods to understand the data that has been collected. According to Gray, descriptive statistics are used to summarize sets of data. Inferential statistics help researchers in their confidence about the collected data (Gray, 2007: p. 35).

After the basic methodologies of psychology, Gray goes into more detail and talks about the different fields that are being explored in psychology and have shaped it to what it is now. Human behavior is an important field, that is often being examined  through genetic evolution and the environment around a human being (Gray, 2007: p. 49). Furthermore, cognition and neuroscience are important in studying the shaping of behavior and the mind.

An interesting example in which the field of psychology is particularly relevant to Web Science and the subject that I chose, online surveillance, is through laws of behavior as social facilitation and social interference. These terms are being described by Gray as influential on human behavior, because the individual knows when it is being observed and its behavior is being affected by it (Gray, 2007: p. 502).

This week I wrote on the basic definition of psychology and some of its methodologies. Next week I want to explore in detail which different fields of psychology exist and how they might relate to online surveillance. 



Gray, Peter. Psychology. Fifth Edition. New York: Worth Publishers, 2007.

Written by Gert Van Hardeveld on October 21st, 2013

Tagged with , ,

Psychology and Computer Science   no comments

Posted at 2:53 pm in Psychology

Back in Amsterdam, I wrote my bachelor thesis on the usage of social media during the so-called ‘new media revolutions’ during the Arab Spring. One of my main conclusions was that social media are not just of use for the oppressed populations to liberate themselves, but are also being used by (authoritarian) governments to track, and often arrest, opponents. While writing my thesis I herewith developed an interest for the ways in which governments all over the world detect, track and eliminate potential ‘enemies’ of the state through the Web.

Online surveillance is for me one of the most interesting subjects when studying the Web. On the one hand it could be used to protect the state by finding criminals, terrorists and other dissidents. At the same time, omnipresent surveillance can affect ‘regular’ citizens. When governments misuse their power in this field, they can become a ‘Big Brother’ that closely tracks everyone in a nation. This may change the way people browse the Web.

Because of this fact, I think that an interesting way of looking at the topic can be through the disciplines of Psychology and Computer Science.


Users of the Web might alter their (online) behavior if they have the feeling that they are being constantly ‘watched’. Looking at online surveillance from a psychological perspective may give an explanation why users act differently. Psychology is the study of mind and behavior, and therefore will most likely offer many different theories to analyze web users that have the feeling (or are actually) being watched. I loaned the book Psychology by Peter Gray from the library to start learning about the epistemologies and ontologies in Psychology.

Computer Science

Besides a psychological perspective, it could also be interesting to look at online surveillance from a Computer Science perspective. Through this field it can be analyzed how governments can watch citizens, while at the same time it can look at how the citizens can avoid being watched. I loaned the book Computer Science. An Overview by J. Glenn Brookshear to get some insights in how computers work and how they have been used over the years.

By combining Psychology and Computer Science I hope to get a human perspective with a technological perspective and learn more about how to combine these disciplines.


Brookshear, J. Glenn. Computer Science. An Overview. Eleventh Edition. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2012.

Gray, Peter. Psychology. Fifth Edition. New York: Worth Publishers, 2007.

Written by Gert Van Hardeveld on October 11th, 2013

Tagged with , ,