Computer-mediated communication

Posted: November 30th, 2013


Computer-mediated communication





Computer-mediated communication

            Computer-mediated communication (CMC) refers to the communicative transactions that occur between networked computers. The term traditionally meant computer-mediated forms of communication such as e-mails and IM, but over the years, it had expanded to include text messaging. The scope of CMC covers various elements. Some scholars include socio-psychological studies of how man uses digital media to handle communication as part of CMC. Such investigations have concentrated on the topics of online interactions and their relation to everyday life. Other aspects of CMC touch on the usage of paralinguistic characteristics, for example, emoticons. In studying the language in these contexts, the main format is usually text-based (Storms et al, 2007).

The ways in which human beings communicate within social, educational and professional environment vary greatly. The difference not only lies in the surroundings but also in the method of communication that for this case of CMC involves using computers and other forms of ICT. The characteristics of CMC are such that any communication that takes place in a computer-mediated setting has an effect on the interaction aspects. The comparison between CMC and other communication media can be done through a number of aspects such as persistence, anonymity and synchronicity. An example is instant messaging, which might be synchronous but lack persistence, in that, one loses all the content when they close the dialog box unless the information was copied elsewhere first. (Holland, 2008).

Paralinguistic cues and the impact on computer-mediated communication

            By definition, paralinguistic cues refer to the nonverbal aspects of communication such as body language, facial expression and posture that serve to supplement verbal communication. The study of paralanguage has been on going for many years with the main objective being to understand how these non-verbal elements affect the level of communication. Paralinguistic cues play an important part in human speech communication. Most of the utterances involve paralinguistic cues. Voice must always have some qualities and the voice qualities are paralinguistic. To an extent, even vocal language has a bit of paralinguistic features such as lip reading (Walther & D’Addario, 2008).

If the same scenario were acted out via CMC, interactions your impressions would be based on text message interactions alone. According to DeLamater & Myers (2007), the accuracy of communication is greatly enhanced by the use of multiple cues, as opposed to a single communication channel. Human beings often base their impressions about other people early on during interactions. Paralinguistic cues complement speech to communicate messages in clearer ways. Listeners, on the other hand, use these cues to gauge intentions and form expectations about us. There is thus the need for insight on how this affects the expectations or preconceptions that people form of each other in CMC interactions.

The speed of talking also exhibits different results in relation to the various cultural backgrounds. For instance, the Finnish have slower speech as compared to other Europeans. This slow, slurry speech has made the Finnish to be regarded as somewhat lax and slow. The amount of silence in the middle of the conversation is also given much consideration by individuals (Hancock & Dunham, 2001). Between the Japanese, silence is considered wise and most people in that society would prefer to keep silent in between the conversations. However, in other cultures, silence, even for a moment, is deemed embarrassing and hence societies such as the American fill up most of their speech with aimless rambling that may be considered aimless. When speakers also have problems with communicating a point, they tend to use non-verbal expressions such as hand signals (Epley & Kruger, 2005).

Past research has resulted in a variety of conclusions. The Social Context Cues Theory proposes that the absence of paralinguistic cues in CMC makes it highly ambiguous (Epley & Kruger, 2005). As a result, we depend on our 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 relied on to question them (Holland, 2008). A highly standardized experiment found that preconceived impressions could not be challenged by CMC interactions as compared to phone interactions (DeLamater & Meyers, 2007).

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. 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. Among individuals, there are various degrees of social-emotional agnosia or the inability to use facial expressions and body language (Amant, 2007).



The participants were undergraduate introductory psychology students at
Monash University from Clayton, Caulfield, and Sunway and South Africa campuses. 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 woman (M = 20.7 years, SD = 5.3). Group B was the plain text group with 125 men and 308 woman (M = 21.2 years, SD = 5.4). Group C was the control group with 131 men and 329 woman (M = 20.9 years, SD = 5.1). The total sample had 1355 participants (M = 20.9, SD = 5.23). Participation was part of a course requirement.


            The study used internet-connected computers to conduct the experiment. An online profile was created with CMC interaction. The profile consisted of an individual’s photo and personal details (e.g., date of birth, relationship states and work details). Following the main profile was a transcript of a conversation-taking place with the target individual and an independent third party. After the transcript of the conversation a questionnaire was filled out regarding how the individual was perceived (e.g., was he an extrovert).


Participants were directed to observe a past CMC activity. A profile stimulating the expectation in participants that a target individual was introverted was designed. Participants then looked at this profile then observed the target individual communicating with an uncontrolled third party. Participants were then divided in two. One group looked at basic text interaction while the other looked at a realistic paralinguistic communication with many cues hinting that the target was an extrovert (Walther et al, 2010). 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 study design used an independent measures design. There were three levels of independent variables used. These were the control group, the group with the basic text interaction and the group with the paralinguistic interaction. The dependent variable was the basic text interaction while the independent variables were the paralinguistic cues and the groups of participants.























Amant, K. (2007). Linguistic and cultural online communication issues in the global age. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

DeLamater, J. D., & Myers, D. J. (2007). Social Psychology. 6th edn. Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.

Epley, N., & Kruger, J. (2005). What you type is not what they read: The perseverance of stereotypes and expectancies over email. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 414-422.

Hancock, J. T., & Dunham, P. J. (2001). Impression formation in computer-mediated communication revisited: An analysis of the breadth and intensity of impressions. Communication Research, 28, 325-347.

Holland, S. (2008). Remote relationships in a small world. New York: Peter Lang.

Storms, H. I., Grottum, P. P., & Lycke, K. H. (2007). Content and processes in problem-based learning: A comparison of computer-mediated and face-to-face communication. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 23(3), 271-282.

Walther, J. B., & D’Addario, K. P. (2001). The impacts of emoticons on message interpretation in computer-mediated communication. Social Science Computer Review, 19, 324-347.

Walther, J. B., Deandrea, D. C., & Tong, S. T. (2010). Computer-mediated communication versus vocal communication and the attenuation of pre-interaction impressions. Media Psychology, 13, 364-386


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