Contributing to internet discussion forums has been found to boost your wellbeing -- and can even improve community engagement offline.
Research undertaken by the University of Exeter and published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour has found that in spite of the rise of social networks, 10 percent of internet users in the UK and 20 percent of users in the US still contribute to forums. The authors of the study believe this may well be due to the degree of anonymity forum interactions allow.
Two distinct sets of groups of forum users were examined as part of the study: those who used forums based around a subject that could potentially be stigmatised, like mental health, and those who used forums for more generic subjects, like sporting activities. Each set of users answered the same questions regarding their reasons for joining the forum, whether their expectations of the forums had been filled, how they identified with other forum users whether they were generally satisfied in life and how they engaged with the issues discussed on forums in the 'real' world.
The results convinced the researchers not only that there was still a place for forums on the internet, but that forums should boast more loudly about the benefits participating in them can bring. Forum users, they discovered, were already well aware of the positive effects, and the researchers think more people may well benefit from joining them.
People who used forums to talk about stigmatised subjects such as mental health were found to have enjoyed particularly strong benefits. "In addition to forums boosting users' well-being and enhancing options for social capital, they can foster a strong commitment to the forum issues and a desire to work on behalf of the forum in an offline capacity. In other words, offline life may be facilitated by online activity," write the authors.
Psychologist Louise Pendry, who was lead author, said that the results paint an "optimistic picture" of discussion forums. "Our study showed users often discover that forums are a source of great support, especially those seeking information about more stigmatising conditions. Moreover, we found that users of both forum types who engaged more with other forum users showed a greater willingness to get involved in offline activities related to the forum, such as volunteering, donating or campaigning," she said.
By Katie Collins