Computer based communication is an integral communication modality within the social, educational and professional environments. However, when using text-based CMC, it is common for people to form prejudice impressions about the personality traits of another individual.
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This experiment investigated the effect of the presence or absence of paralinguistic cues in computer-mediated communications on personality traits.
The findings suggest that the impressions formed about a personality trait of an individual rely on the presence or absence of paralinguistic cues during interaction.
Computer based communication has become more popular and vary greatly with the ways in which individuals communicate within social, educational and professional environments. The differences not only lie in the surrounding environment, but also in the method of communication (Storms, Grottum & Lycke, 2007).
Communication entails both verbal and non-verbal aspects. While verbal communication involves exchange of words between individuals, non-verbal communication takes in different forms (Walther, Deandrea & Tong, 2010).
Computer-mediated communications (CMC) refers to the communicative transaction involving the use of computers and communicative networks.
The scope of computer mediated communications cuts across sociopsychological elements, particularly the topic on online interactions and their relations to everyday life, and to the application of paralinguistic aspects like emoticons (Storms, Grottum & Lycke, 2007).
Paralinguistic cues play a significant role in human speech communication. A lot of studies have been carried out in attempts to elucidate how the use of paralinguistic features such as body language, facial expression and posture affect the level of communication (Amant, 2007).
It is common for human beings to form prejudices about others even before speaking to them when socializing on a face-to-face basis. These preconceptions are often based on paralinguistic cues like gestures and appearance (Epley &Kruger, 2005).
However, in the computer-mediated communications, these impressions would only be formed based on text message interactions. According to DeLamater and Myers (2007), the accuracy of communication is greatly enhanced by the use of multiple cues, as opposed to a single communication channel.
Computer-mediated communication features such as lack of social context cues often make this form of communication less personal (Holland, 2008).
There is need to gain more insight on how the presence or absence of paralinguistic cues affects the expectations or preconceptions that people form of each other in CMC interactions.
Various theories have been proposed in attempts to explain the role of paralinguistic cues in influence the stereotypes and expectancies over computer-mediated communication.
Some of these theories include the social context cues theory and the social information processing theory.
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The social context cues theory proposes that the absence of paralinguistic cues in CMC makes it highly ambiguous (Epley & Kruger, 2005). As a result, people depend on their personal stereotypes to make preconceptions about the other person’s character.
CMC, thus, allows the persistence of expectancies or stereotypes due to the absence of paralinguistic cues ordinarily the question then (Holland, 2008). A highly standardized experiment was performed by Epley and Kruger (2005) to investigate impressions on different communication channels and the resultant stereotypes and expectancies.
The researchers performed three experiments, whereby they moderated the participant’s anticipations regarding the interviewee. The interviews were done either on phone or e-mail.
Phone communication was found to confer features reminiscent of face-to-face interaction, even though the conversations relied on simple, preset questions and rapid responses.
In contrast, communication through e-mail conferred no actual interactions between the parties, though the answers the interviewees gave were similar to those from phone communication.
The results indicated that the preformed notions about the interviewee persisted more over e-mail than over the phone (Epley & Kruger, 2005).
Conversely, the social information processing theory suggests that potential deficiencies of CMC are indemnified by the use of text based non-verbal cues like ‘Laughing Out Loud’ (LOL) and ‘mhhh’. The usage of emoticons in CMC provides an emotional setting to users (Walther & D’Addario, 2001).
CMC users can, thus, express socio-emotional content with only written text via these non-verbal cues and timing of the messages. A recent social experiment showed that live CMC chats could challenge pre-interaction stereotypes better than phone communication (Walther, Deandrea & Tong, 2010).
In this study, the researchers let the interviewees respond naturally to questions posed by the interviewers through phone and live chats. The study demonstrated that live chats provide a variety of non- or marginally verbal expressions surpassing those provided by voice communication.
This is because people can use live chats intelligent features, involving verbal and non-verbal cues, to deliver precisely what face-to-face could achieve (Walther, Deandrea & Tong, 2010).
However, these experiments were hampered by a variety of limitations. One limitation was the use of faulty experimental designs, which did not correctly simulate natural CMC interactions (Epley & Kruger, 2005).
Other experiments lacked control parameters, hence making it difficult to establish causal relationships (Walther, Deandrea & Tong, 2010).
The aim of the current study was to investigate whether paralinguistic cues in CMC interactions were sufficient to challenge the expectation that the target individual was introverted on personality trait rating.
It is predicted that the presence or absence of paralinguistic cues in computer-mediated communication interactions will not have an effect on personality trait ratings, according to the social cues theory.
It is also predicted that the presence or absence of paralinguistic cues in computer-mediated communication interactions will have an effect on extroversion ratings, according to the social information processing theory.
The participants were undergraduate introductory psychology students at Monash University from Clayton, Caulfield, Peninsula, Sunway and South Africa campuses.
Internet connected computers were used to conduct the experiment. An online profile for the CMC interaction was created. The profile, called MINGLE.COM, consisted of an individual’s photo and personal details such as date of birth, relationship status and work details.
A questionnaire with 20 questions was designed to provide extraversion ratings. The CMC interaction to be observed involved a series of questions and responses between the target and the interviewer.
The interviewer questions were like, “what would be your favorite way to spend the summer holiday? Examples of the responses from a target were “DEFINITELY at the beach. …..: D, LOL…..sure thing:), yep.
Just be warned…dun dunduuuuuun! Extraversion ratings were on a scale of 1-7, depending on the responses of the participants. The responses to the questions had seven options to choose from.
To measure the personality, the extraversion scale was utilized whereby individuals with introvert personality would have a score of 20 to 80 while those having an extrovert personality would have a score range of between 80 and 140.
The sample was divided into three groups A, B, and C who observed a CMC interaction. Group A was the paralinguistic cues group with 120 men and 342 women (M=20.7 years, SD=5.3). Group B was the plain text group with 125 men and 308 women (M=21.2 years, SD=5.4).
Group C was the control group with 131 men and 329 women (M=20.9 years, SD=5.1). The total sample had 1355 participants (M=20.9, SD=5.23). Convenience sampling was adopted as this study was part of the course requirement.
Initially, the participants were naïve regarding the true nature of the study. However, they were debriefed and instructed online as to the intent and procedure. The participants were directed to observe a past CMC activity.
A profile stimulating the expectation in participants that the target individual was introverted was designed. Participants looked at this profile, and then observed the target individual communicating with an uncontrolled third party. Participants were then divided into two groups.
One group looked at the basic text interaction while the other looked at a realistic paralinguistic communication with many cues hinting that the target was an extrovert.
The text used for the interactions was made from a real paralinguistic interaction from which all cues were removed to produce a basic text interaction.
Therefore, the conversations had identical contents apart from the paralinguistic introduced. The major aim was to establish if paralinguistic information in CMC provided enough evidence to clear the preformed ideas that the target was an introvert.
The study used an independent measure design. There were two levels of independent variable conditions used. These were the group with the basic text interaction and the group with the paralinguistic interaction. The dependent variable was the extroversion rating.
The participants were asked questions, which they were to respond to from the given options such as strongly disagree, disagree, somewhat disagree, neither agree nor disagree, somewhat agree, agree, and strongly agree.
From the 20 questions posed to the participants, responses were measured on an extraversion scale of 1-7, with the highest possible personality score being 140 and the lowest being 20.
The higher the score, the more the extraverted rating an individual was given. It was predicted that presence or absence of paralinguistic cues would not influence the extroversion ratings when considering the social cues theory.
In relation to the social information processing theory, it was also predicted that the presence or absence of paralinguistic cues would influence extroversion ratings.
Group A, which had participants observing a CMC interaction for paralinguistic cues, rated the targets as extrovert (M=91.74, SD=37.42) while group B, with participants observing plain text interaction, rated the targets as introvert (M=79.84, SD=29.08).
Group C, which was the control, indicated that the targets were introverts (M=72.16, SD=29.08).
The results indicate that the presence of paralinguistic cues in computer-mediated communication can influence the impressions formed about the personality traits of an individual. In group A, the participants rated the target as highly extrovert in spite of the fact that the targets were presented as introverts.
The findings further advance the social information processing theory which emphasizes more on the style of communication as an important aspect of impression formation.
Use of non-verbal, text based cues such as emoticons, ellipses and hyphens can help in deciphering the personality trait of a person in a CMC interaction (Hancock & Dunham, 2001; Walther, Deandrea & Tong, 2010).
In group B, most participants used their preformed concepts to rate the target as being introvert. This is because plain texts may often undermine the impressions about the personality traits as a result of the inadequate information it relays.
These results, therefore, support the social cues theory proposition that absence of social cues in a computer-mediated communication environment increases ambiguity, hence people use their stereotypes to form preconceptions about personality traits.
The findings are in agreement with the arguments by Epley and Krugler (2005) that absence of nonverbal cues hinders people from discerning another person’s characters.
The data from group C, the control, rated the targets as introverts. Given that this data falls between the data for groups A and B, then group C suggests that the profile was successful in measuring the objectives of the study.
It can, therefore, be concluded that the presence or absence of paralinguistic cues in computer-mediated communication can influence the impressions about the personality traits of a person.
The impressions formed depend on the communication style.
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DeLamater, J. D.,& Myers, D. J. (2007). Social psychology, 6th edn. Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.
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