Psychological Predictors of Internet Social Communication

Authors

  • Sarah A. Birnie,

    1. Doctoral student in clinical psychology at the School of Psychology, University of Ottawa.
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  • Peter Horvath

    Corresponding author
    1. Professor in the Psychology Department, Acadia University. This research was supported by a Small Universities Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
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Address: Department of Psychology, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada, B0P 1X0.

Abstract

This study investigated the relationship of traditional social behavior to social communication via the Internet in a completely wired campus where every professor uses computers in classroom teaching, each residence is wired to the Internet, and every student is issued a laptop computer. It has been suggested that shy and socially isolated individuals communicate more on the Internet because it provides some protection from social anxiety. However, little research has empirically tested this assumption. In line with social network theory, we proposed, instead, that online social communication would complement or supplement the uses of face-to-face social contact resulting in a positive association between the two forms of social behaviors. We assessed the frequency and intimacy of traditional social behaviors, sociability, and shyness in 115 undergraduates (52 male, 63 female). These variables were then used to predict the frequency and intimacy of Internet social communication. Sociability and the frequency of traditional social behaviors were positively associated with the frequency of Internet social communication. The intimacy of traditional social behaviors was positively associated with the intimacy of Internet social communication. Overall, the findings supported the implications of social network theory in that online social communication appeared to complement or be an extension of traditional social behavior rather than being a compensatory medium for shy and socially anxious individuals. With relation to uses and gratifications theory, however, shyness was associated with increased intimate socializing over the Internet, indicating that traditional and Internet communication are not functionally equivalent.

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