Research 9: Online Identity and Neuroscience – Report

Posted on: Friday 03 July 2015 6:47am


  • Research has been conducted into what an online presence is to a teenager, and what a teenager aims to gain by having an online presence.
  • Results showed that teens prized their online identity very highly, even though often the personality presented online differed to their physical personality.
  • Furthermore, online identities may at some stage become more important to a teen than their physical identity.
  • The response to this finding was that more research needs to be done into the topic, but that even online identities seemed to have very human wants.

Session Details

“What is online identity all about?” It’s a pretty broad question, isn’t it? The aim of this inquiry was to find out from teenagers what it was to have an online presence, and whether this online personality affected the physical human behind the keyboard.

The project is a collaboration between Sonia Joao (Oxy Insights), Erman Misirlisoy (Praedico -a company bringing neuroscience into a commercial arena) and Naomi Ward (Connected, who organise mutually positive relationships between businesses and schools.)

The individuals put together a self-funded experiment to gain an insight into the teenage online psyche, working with three schools to gather research from neuroscientific experiments.

The team wanted to identify exactly what teenagers aimed to get from having an online presence. They discovered that teenagers had very human wants, even in an online territory.

Firstly, teenagers looked for validation from their Internet peers. They wanted others to recognise and acknowledge their online presence, that they are valued in the online community.

Once they had gained this acceptance, the teenagers aimed to begin taking risks with their identity. They wanted to be more creative, to push the boundaries of their identity and see how others responded.

From here, the question was asked: “how important is this digital identity?” 60% of teenagers responded saying they thought their online identity was no different to their physical identity.

Having conducted a series of tests, research suggested that teenagers in reality were very different to how they presented themselves online. Individuals become more confident online, and get more confident the more time they spend on the Internet per day. Furthermore, teens are less neurotic in their digital selves than their physical selves.

Finally, the query of “How deep does your digital identity go? “ was posed. The answer: a lot further than we’d like to think. Following more tests, evidence suggested that if an individual spends 7+ hours online, their online presence becomes more important to them than their physical. Hence, digital identity may become the dominant force in the human character in the future.

Is that worrying? The response from Misirlisoy was reassuring: “It’s still us. We’re just interacting a new online domain. When literature was created everyone was terrified, but it just enabled us to enter this new world. I don’t think digital identity is a scary thing, it’s just something we need to explore more.”

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