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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/J005053/1
Title: Identi-scope: Multiple identities as a resource for understanding and impacting behaviours in the digital world
Principal Investigator: Levine, Professor M
Other Investigators:
Gleibs, Dr IH Rashid, Professor A
Researcher Co-investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Psychology
Organisation: University of Exeter
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 07 February 2012 Ends: 07 May 2014 Value (£): 343,912
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Psychology Social Anthropology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Information Technologies
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
The recent student protests in London and the pro-democracy protests across the Arab world show the importance of understanding synchronised (political) actions driven by online interactions. Individuals with a range of different personal and social identities, distributed across a number of different social network or chat mediums, interact in both online and offline worlds in ways that transform self and society. This merging of the online and offline worlds into a digital world, requires a study of how online and offline identities relate.

Drawing on evidence from computer security, technology and privacy researchers about the importance of multiple identities in online environments, and research from social psychologists about the role of multiple identities for understanding and changing behaviour, in this 12-month scoping study we will address three interrelated questions:

1) The first question is the issue of identity salience: if people have multiple identities, how do we know what identity is salient for an individual at any given time?

2) The second question is the issue of identity continuity/ identity change: in a landscape of multiple identities, what allows particular identities to be sustained - and what leads to change?

3) The third question is the issue of identity as a resilience agent: does constraining or enhancing the number of identities available to an individual have effects on their ability to withstand stressful life events?

To explore the dynamic nature of identity salience, we will conduct a series of laboratory experiments which utilise online environments to explore dynamic shifts in the salience of personal and social identities. Given the rapid shifts that are possible between online identity environments (i.e. the click of a button) compared to offline identity interactions - or the fact that several online identities can be active at the same time (rather than sequentially) - we aim to use the properties (or possibilities) of online engagements to identify the key features in determining identity salience.

To examine the question of identity continuity/change we will conduct a series of experiments in which participants are required to act together (to become entrained) and to do so as group members or as isolated individuals. We will then test the degree to which actions undertaken in the group are more long-lasting when performed as members of a social group or as isolated individuals. To be able to conduct these experiments in online settings, we will develop an online collaborative platform that allows participants to contribute simultaneous behaviours (in order to entrain) rather than make sequential contributions. Synchronous behaviours are largely unexplored in online worlds (as entrainment is a key feature of interactions when individuals can be co-present, but much harder in virtual or distributed interactions on the internet). The establishment of such a platform to "entrain" specific identities has not only profound implications for future online social media but also for security strategies and mechanisms to counter threats emerging from specific groups or individuals.

To examine the impact of identity as a resilience agent, we will conduct a series of experiments using the cold-pressor task - a well-known psychological method for inducing physical discomfort. In the cold-pressor task participants are asked to submerge their hand, up to their wrist, into a bucket of ice water. The time (in seconds) that participants keep their hand in the water is recorded and serves as a measure of endurance/ resilience. By conducting identity manipulations in online worlds, but looking at resilience behaviour in offline worlds, we bridge the digital divide that is of particular interest in how online-engagement shapes offline action.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.ex.ac.uk