Person-Centered Emotional Support and Gender Attributions in Computer-Mediated Communication


Corresponding author: Erin L. Spottswood; e-mail:


Without physical appearance, identification in computer-mediated communication is relatively ambiguous and may depend on verbal cues such as usernames, content, and/or style. This is important when gender-linked differences exist in the effects of messages, as in emotional support. This study examined gender attribution for online support providers with male, female, or ambiguous usernames, who provided highly person-centered (HPC) or low person-centered (LPC) messages. Participants attributed gender to helpers with gender-ambiguous names based on HPC versus LPC messages. Female participants preferred HPC helpers over LPC helpers. Unexpectedly, men preferred HPC messages from male and gender-ambiguous helpers more than they did when HPC messages came from females. Implications follow about computer-mediated emotional support and theories of computer-mediated communication and social influence.