A new international study finds teenagers identify with an online community in a manner almost as powerful as their family relationships.
Researchers studied users of teenage online community Habbo and learned that users identify more strongly with the online community than with their neighborhood or offline hobby group.
The study is based on a survey with 4,299 respondents from the United Kingdom, Spain and Japan.
All three nationalities yielded similar results.
The study was authored by Dr. Vili Lehdonvirta, a researcher at the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology (HIIT) and Professor Pekka Räsänen from the University of Turku, Finland.
The authors point out that peer groups are important for the development of adolescents’ identity and values. The study addresses the question of whether online groups are standing in for traditional peer groups that are thought to be weakening in some developed countries.
The results confirm that online groups can act as strong psychological anchoring points for their members.
The results also suggest that in relatively young information societies such as Spain, online groups are more often “virtual communities” consisting of relative strangers.
In mature information societies such as Japan, online groups are more likely to be a way of keeping in touch with family and friends. This may influence the experiences that youth receive from online groups in different countries.
The study, titled “How do young people identify with online and offline peer groups? A comparison between United Kingdom, Spain and Japan,” is published by the Journal of Youth Studies.
Habbo is a popular teenage virtual world developed by Sulake Corporation. It has 15 million monthly unique visitors from over 150 countries, according to Sulake. The site is available in 11 local language versions and recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. 90 percent of Habbo users are between 13 and 18 years old.