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Date: Sun, 18 Oct 98 01:11:59 CDT
From: Mark Graffis <ab758@virgin.usvi.net>
Subject: Marginal groups (i.e. the rest of us) thrive on the Internet
Organization: ?
Article: 45592
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.23578.19981020121533@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>


Marginal groups (i.e. the rest of us) thrive on the Internet

By B. Bower, in Science News, Vol. 154, no. 16
17 October 1998, p. 245

More than 30,000 different Internet newsgroups now exist, allowing members to send and receive messages on interests that range from the mundane to the weird. Membership in online groups may prove particularly helpful, at least in promoting self-acceptance and social support, for individuals whose unconventional traits or behaviors make it difficult to find compatriots in daily life, a new study finds.

Internet newsgroup users of this ilk include people with epilepsy, incest survivors, and sexual sadists. If the findings hold up, they will indicate that people viewed as cultural outsiders can form stable, emotionally supportive online groups.

"Whatever position one takes regarding the values of the various [online groups], the psychological effects of virtual group participation are nonetheless real," contend Katelyn Y.A. McKenna and John A. Bargh, both psychologists at New York University. "In all likelihood, they will be an increasingly common feature of life in the age of the Internet."

McKenna and Bargh monitored participation in 12 Internet newsgroups during a 3-week period. They selected four groups that focus on mainstream interests (such as politics), four that concern culturally undesirable but conspicuous conditions (such as obesity), and four that focus on culturally "marginalized" but concealable behavior (homosexuality, illicit drug use, sexual bondage, and sexual spanking).

Four judges rated original messages and the responses as positive or negative. The judges agreed on most of their ratings.

Online gatherings mattered most to participants in "marginalized but concealable" groups, the scientists contend in the September Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Members of those groups posted messages far more frequently, often after receiving positive feedback online, than members of the other groups did.

The scientists then sent electronic questionnaires to individuals recruited from marginalized-concealable Internet groups. A total of 103 participants in the homosexual, sexual-bondage, and sexual-spanking groups responded-a majority of those contacted. In addition, 49 "lurkers," people who read messages on these sites but did not post, completed the electronic questionnaires.

Another 59 posters to newsgroups concerned with marginal political and ideological beliefs returned questionnaires, often only after the researchers convinced them that the project was not part of a government plot. These groups cater to people concerned with government cover-ups, extraterrestrial visitors, white supremacy, and citizen militias. Eighteen lurkers on these sites also responded.

Compared with lurkers, active participants in all these groups considered newsgroup membership far more important in their lives, valued other members' opinions more, and spent more time in the newsgroup. Many participants said that as a result of newsgroup membership, they had revealed to friends or family what had been embarrassing secrets about themselves.

"This is the sort of work that needs to be done, examining different types of Internet users and different effects of computer use," remarks psychologist Robert Kraut of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Kraut, who also studies cyberspace travelers (SN: 9/12/98, p. 168), suspects that all sorts of people who have difficulty finding others to identify with-from night-shift workers to the physically disabled-will benefit from virtual groups.

From Science News, Vol. 154, No. 16, October 17, 1998, p. 245.
Copyright 1998 by Science Service.


McKenna, K.Y.A., and J.A. Bargh. 1998. Coming out in the age of the internet: Identity "demarginalization" through virtual group participation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 75(September):681.

Further Readings:

Bower, B. 1998. Social disconnections on-line. Science News 154(Sept. 12):168.

Kraut, R., et al. 1998. Internet paradox. American Psychologist(September):001.


John A. Bargh
New York University
Department of Psychology
6 Washington Place, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10003

Katelyn Y.A. McKenna
New York University
Department of Psychology
6 Washington Place, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10003

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