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Abstract

In the last years, the spread and popularity of digital technologies (e.g., smartphones and social media) on the planet have been unprecedented. These technologies’ potential impacts on people’s lives are innumerable, including, to name just a few aspects, psychological distress, time devoted to sleep, posture, physical activity, learning processes, and ways of working. Among these impacts, there is undoubtedly those digital technologies have on the quantity and quality of humans connections. Under what conditions do digital technologies interfere with the human need for social connections? And under what conditions do they facilitate it? Accordingly, the influence of digital technologies on social connections has clear repercussions on people’s wellbeing. Considering the social impacts of digital technologies implies rethinking some socio-cognitive aspects, such as anthropomorphizing digital technologies and possible dehumanizing effects linked to these technologies. Finally, although digital technologies’ social impacts affect all age groups, the most pronounced effects may occur on young people, particularly in school and family settings, which requires particular attention to learning contexts and possible interventions aimed to raise awareness in young people, parents, teachers and caregivers in general.

The summer school “Social connections and wellbeing in the digital era” aims at offering an overview of the most cutting-edge psychological theories and research on the social impacts of digital technologies. The impacts of various platforms and devices will be considered, including already widespread (e.g., smartphones, social media) and frontier ones (e.g., social chatbots, social robots, and virtual reality). Four primary focuses will be discussed.  The first focus will refer to the impact that digital technologies can have on social connectedness and social isolation in terms of interference (e.g., phubbing) or facilitation of social interactions (e.g., during a pandemic).  The second focus concerns the social perception of digital technologies, also focusing on humanizing and dehumanizing perceptions and their impact on humans’ sense of connection with digital technologies (e.g., social robots). Considering that digital technologies’ impact seems particularly overwhelming on young people, the third area will devote special attention to the school setting (e.g., technology enhanced learning, digital learning) and family environment (e.g., parents-children relationships). Finally, the last focus is on social change, considering the most promising digital interventions to promote a healthier use of digital technologies.

Taking advantage of the four directors’ different expertise, the School will benefit from a strongly interdisciplinary approach, integrating theoretical and applied knowledge from social psychology with educational studies and community psychology.  References and contributions will also be offered from complementary domains such as computer science. The School will also integrate theoretical and methodological aspects with ad hoc methodological seminars that will complement the School program. Some of the key topics that will be discussed concern processes of social influence (persuasion, conformity), social perception (anthropomorphism, theory of mind, trust, and morality), antecedents (social exclusion, social isolation, economic inequality), and consequences of digital technologies use (phubbing, ghosting), its effects on wellbeing (e.g., psychopathological symptoms such as general and social anxiety and depression) and the consideration of the possible interventions.