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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review/Rationale
  5. Two Conflicting Approaches in CMC
  6. Lost Perspective Literatures
  7. Liberated Perspective Literatures
  8. IM Use and Intimacy
  9. Research Question/Hypothesis
  10. Method
  11. Results
  12. Acknowledgements
  13. References
  14. Appendix

This study explores the relationship between the amount of Instant Messenger (IM) use and the level of perceived intimacy between friends. Results showed the amount of IM use was positively associated not only with verbal intimacy, but also with affective and social intimacy. Findings are consistent with the relationship liberated perspective of computer-mediated communication, and suggest that IM promotes rather than hinders intimacy. Moreover, frequent conversation via IM actually encourages the desire to meet face-to-face. Theoretical as well as practical implications of the results for geographically remote friends and families are discussed.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review/Rationale
  5. Two Conflicting Approaches in CMC
  6. Lost Perspective Literatures
  7. Liberated Perspective Literatures
  8. IM Use and Intimacy
  9. Research Question/Hypothesis
  10. Method
  11. Results
  12. Acknowledgements
  13. References
  14. Appendix

Instant messaging offers two functions unique to computer-mediated communication (CMC): the ability to know who is connected to the shared space between or among friends, and the ability to conduct a text-based conversation in real time. Increasingly, IM software features audio and video components as well. IM has proven to be one of the most popular online applications, resulting in dramatically increased Internet connection time nationwide. This phenomenon fosters a sense of online community that perhaps no other application has done (Alvestrand, 2002). Some reasons for IMs popularity may be that this form of communication is inexpensive compared to other forms of media such as the telephone (Grinter & Eldridge, 2001). Beyond economic factors, some of the attributes of IM also contribute to the acceptance of IM. Near synchronous and text-based, IM may be administered in one-on-one or in group communication settings, virtually combining features of the telephone, e-mail and chat rooms into one (Nardi, Whitaker, & Bradner, 2000).

With the steep increase and advancement of communication technologies, what are their influences on interpersonal communication and relationships? History has shown that communication technologies are not replacing face-to-face (FTF) interactions (e.g., Walther, 1992), but how are they influencing relationship building and the way in which people communicate in an increasingly global world? Will IM provide more opportunities for friends to stay connected? In considering possible affective and cognitive implications of increased popularity of IM, one population may be more affected than others — college students. The Internet has become an integral part of college life, and not just for studying. According to a survey released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project (Jones et al., 2002), college students are among the heaviest users of IM in the US. The survey of college students across the country found that 86% use the Internet, compared with 59% of the overall US population. Moreover, college Internet users are heavier users of IM than those in the overall online population. While only half of all Internet users have sent instant messages, nearly three quarters of college Internet users have done so. College Internet users are twice as likely as the average Internet users to use IM on any given day. 85% of college students consider the Internet an easy, convenient choice for communicating with friends, and, furthermore, 72% report that most of their online communication is with friends.

These statistics show that college students actively utilize IM more than the overall US population, and over two-thirds of college students report that most of their on-line communication is with friends, so the proposed influences of the amount of IM use on friendships would be most appropriately examined within this context. To date, little research examines the relationship between the amount of IM use in college students and their social connectedness, which is key in examining “IM intimacy.”

Does this real-time CMC application contribute to a sense of closeness between friends? This study explores the correlation between the amount of IM use and intimacy in friendships. Some research focuses on the social and organizational aspects of the amount of IM use, but very little examines the effects on an individual level. From an organizational perspective, research suggests that IM supports a variety of informal communication tasks in the workplace (Nardi, Whittacker, & Bradner, 2000). Furthermore, the ability for interactive text in IM is expected to support informal, spontaneous, and opportunistic communication which makes it particularly suitable for geographically distributed teams (Herbsleb, Atkins, Boyer, Handel, & Finholt, 2002). This casual environment can create a relaxed atmosphere conducive to intimate exchanges.

Research also shows that many people use IM at home, in private, and late at night (Hu, 2004). Because environment has been shown to influence the nature of interpersonal communication (Fitzpatrick, 1988), one can speculate that such a private setting leads to more self-disclosure on IM.

Literature Review/Rationale

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review/Rationale
  5. Two Conflicting Approaches in CMC
  6. Lost Perspective Literatures
  7. Liberated Perspective Literatures
  8. IM Use and Intimacy
  9. Research Question/Hypothesis
  10. Method
  11. Results
  12. Acknowledgements
  13. References
  14. Appendix

Existing research that focuses on IM use at an individual level examines the phenomenon within a uses and gratifications context. This study examines more closely the definition of intimacy through CMC. Current theories on CMC generally fall under two competing categories of relationship lost and relationship liberated, but few seek a relationship between time spent on IM and intimacy. This study seeks to continue where others left off, and make an improvement in understanding the influence of CMC on interpersonal communication.

Two Conflicting Approaches in CMC

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review/Rationale
  5. Two Conflicting Approaches in CMC
  6. Lost Perspective Literatures
  7. Liberated Perspective Literatures
  8. IM Use and Intimacy
  9. Research Question/Hypothesis
  10. Method
  11. Results
  12. Acknowledgements
  13. References
  14. Appendix

In previous CMC studies, two conflicting approaches to online relationships emerge: lost and liberation. Lost approach regards online relationships as shallow, impersonal, and often hostile. This approach also suggests that only the illusion of community can be created in cyberspace (e.g., Beniger, 1987; Heim, 1992). Critics of relationship lost argue that CMC can, to a large degree, liberate relationships from the confines of physical locality and thus create opportunities for new, but genuine, interpersonal relationships and communities (e.g., Pool, 1983; Rheingold, 1993).

Lost Perspective Literatures

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review/Rationale
  5. Two Conflicting Approaches in CMC
  6. Lost Perspective Literatures
  7. Liberated Perspective Literatures
  8. IM Use and Intimacy
  9. Research Question/Hypothesis
  10. Method
  11. Results
  12. Acknowledgements
  13. References
  14. Appendix

The relationship lost perspective attests that CMC lacks many aspects of traditional communication, such as physical presence, social, nonverbal, and contextual cues. From this point of view, CMC is utilitarian but not relational. Meaning, usually aided by the use of nonverbal cues, is more likely to be misunderstood and unclear. Less information is available without the physical experience of communication.

CMC is generally assumed to be short of many factors underlined in conventional theories of relationship development (Lea & Spears, 1995). Traditional personal relationship theory suggests that the relative lack of social cues and the potential for feedback delays should lead to higher uncertainty and more difficulty in reducing uncertainty about how to behave, how the partner will behave, and how to explain the partner's behavior. The incapability to reduce uncertainty stops, or at least slows down, the development of interpersonal relationships, according to uncertainty reduction theory (Berger & Calabrese, 1975). In addition, theories of relational development highlight the importance of physical appearance and physical attraction, especially in the development of romantic relationships (e.g., Berscheid & Walster, 1978). Yet such information is usually unavailable in CMC settings.

Next, other theories appear to support the relationship lost approach. For example, both social presence theory (Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976) and social context cues theory (Sproull & Kiesler, 1986, 1991), which are generally called cues-filtered-out approach (Culnan & Markus, 1987), show that the decline in contextual, visual, and aural cues should lead to decreased awareness and sensitivity, causing CMC to be more impersonal than FTF communication.

Media richness theory (Daft & Lengel, 1984) suggests that CMC has a narrower bandwidth and less information richness than FTF communication. They argue that different communication channels have different capabilities of processing information; “rich” media is more suitable than “lean” media for socially sensitive or intellectually difficult information, and for persuading, bargaining, or getting to know someone. CMC is attributed to relatively lean media model (Daft, Lengel, & Trevino, 1987). According to Daft and Lengel (1984), relatively lean media are not good channels for interpersonal communication. Therefore, CMC is deemed more appropriate for task-oriented activities, but a weak medium through which to develop interpersonal relationships.

Liberated Perspective Literatures

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review/Rationale
  5. Two Conflicting Approaches in CMC
  6. Lost Perspective Literatures
  7. Liberated Perspective Literatures
  8. IM Use and Intimacy
  9. Research Question/Hypothesis
  10. Method
  11. Results
  12. Acknowledgements
  13. References
  14. Appendix

Walther's (1992) social information-processing theory is representative of many previous studies supporting the liberation approach. Walther first argues that early experimental findings consistent with the lost perspective deserve close conceptual and methodological scrutiny, due to the inadequate use of field observation (see also Culnan & Markus, 1987). Actually, before Walther, a few scholars had observed some cases of relationship development in online communities from field studies (Hiltz & Turoff, 1978), and that users could adapt to new technologies gradually (Kerr & Hiltz, 1982).

Walther then emphasizes that, because people need to manage uncertainty and develop relationships, they will adapt the textual cues to meet their needs when faced with a channel that does not carry visual and aural cues. Using email as an example, Walther illustrates that over time, email provides no less opportunities for positive personal relationships than FTF communication. As a conclusion, it is not that CMC cannot convey relational messages, but that it needs more time.

Three factors are presented in social information-processing theory that influence interpersonal relationships within CMC. First, people are naturally motivated to build an affiliation with others (“relational motivators”). In a study of newsgroups, 60.7% of newsgroup users developed relationships (Parks & Floyd, 1996). Also in a study of MUDs (Multiple User Dimensions, Multiple User Dungeons, or Multiple User Dialogues), 73.6% of the respondents reported that they had made friends (Utz, 2000). Researchers got an even higher rate (93.6%) of user relationships in a study of MOOs (multi-user-dimensions, object-oriented) (Parks & Roberts, 1998). These figures reflect the expected motivation for making friends via CMC.

Second, over time, CMC users develop the skills to decode textual cues to form interpersonal impressions. One example of this would be the use of “emoticons,” such as using “:-)” to indicate a smile. Through these emoticons, some limitations of CMC may be overcome. The study on MUDs shows that the more that MUDers used the MUD-specific emoticons, the more friendships they formed (Utz, 2000).

Finally, individuals that communicate through these technologies adapt strategies for attaining psychological-level knowledge within this new environment. For example, interrogation, self-disclosure, deception detection, etc. are developed to function without contextual or nonverbal cues. Based on these three factors, individuals are able to form impressions, gain interpersonal knowledge, and develop relationships solely through textual interaction.

Walther (1996) later developed the Hyperpersonal Model of CMC, which states that CMC is sometimes even more friendly and social than FTF communication. In CMC, users have the opportunity for selective self-presentation and can choose the positive aspects. The reduced social cues in CMC, on the other hand, can lead to an idealized perception by the perceiver. The ability to express emotions in text and self-presentation are very important for a social and friendly atmosphere, leading to the development of friendships.

IM Use and Intimacy

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review/Rationale
  5. Two Conflicting Approaches in CMC
  6. Lost Perspective Literatures
  7. Liberated Perspective Literatures
  8. IM Use and Intimacy
  9. Research Question/Hypothesis
  10. Method
  11. Results
  12. Acknowledgements
  13. References
  14. Appendix

Studies that have recently examined IM on an individual level explore uses and gratifications (Leung, 2001; Schiano, Chen, Ginsberg, Gretarsdottir, Huddleston, & Isaacs, 2002). However, little research addresses the relationship between the amount of IM use and intimacy, a concept of central importance in human relationships (Fisher & Stricker, 1982).

The word intimacy is derived from the Latin intimus, meaning inner or inmost. To be intimate with another is to have access to, and to comprehend, his/her inmost character (Sexton & Sexton, 1982). Philosopher Gabriel Marcel (1969) gave intimacy a definition using poetic expression: “Even if I cannot see you, if I cannot touch you, I feel that you are with me” (p. 25).

Intimacy is a very complex and heterogeneous concept that has generated a variety of definitions. For social science researchers, these definitions can be generalized into two broad categories. First, intimacy is the sharing of one's innermost being, or essence, such as strength and vulnerability, weakness and competence, with another person. It is a warm, close, and communicative relationship with one person in particular (e.g., Erber & Erber, 2001; Frank, 1996; Lerner, 1990; McAdams, 1989; Piorkowski, 1994).

Second, intimacy is the experience of another's wholeness, an awareness of the innermost character of another person. It is much more a matter of tuning into someone else's reality, and risking being changed by that experience, than a matter of extending your self-absorption to include someone else (e.g., Bennett, 2000; Dowrick 1991; Wilner, 1982).

To Tolstedt and Stokes (1983), three important types of intimacy emerge: verbal, affective, and physical. Most operational definitions of intimacy used in research have emphasized the verbal aspects of intimacy – that is, self-disclosure. Social Penetration Theory (Altman, 1973; Altman & Taylor, 1973) views various aspects of self-disclosure as important variables in the development of intimacy. Intimacy that is reflected in overt verbal exchange could be called verbal intimacy. The second type of intimacy, affective intimacy, reflects feelings of closeness and emotional bonding, including intensity of liking, moral support, and ability to tolerate flaws in the significant other. Finally, physical intimacy encompasses sex and other physical expressions of love.

Researchers are aware of the fact that intimacy is not only sexual intimacy. As Piorkowski (1994) points out, in general, people are well aware of the passionate, sexual side of intimacy in contrast to its quieter, companionable component. Garlikov (n.d.) also states that many people desire emotional intimacy, which does not always accompany sexual intimacy, and often occurs in non-sexual circumstances. Sexual (or physical) intimacy and emotional intimacy are not the same thing and do not necessarily occur at the same time. “Emotional intimacy is the sharing of emotional feelings, thoughts, and self-disclosure of one's innermost thoughts to one's mate or significant other via communicative verbal means” (Shaughnessy, 1995). Because this research examines intimacy via IM, and because CMC does not require shared physical space between individuals engaged in conversation, physical intimacy was excluded from this study.

Research Question/Hypothesis

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review/Rationale
  5. Two Conflicting Approaches in CMC
  6. Lost Perspective Literatures
  7. Liberated Perspective Literatures
  8. IM Use and Intimacy
  9. Research Question/Hypothesis
  10. Method
  11. Results
  12. Acknowledgements
  13. References
  14. Appendix

Because the majority of IM research focuses on use patterns and gratifications, the need for a closer examination of the interpersonal effects of IM is merited. Studies on other related, real-time communication technologies, like the telephone and cell phones, which examine their relationship with intimacy are useful points of reference (Leung & Wei, 2000). However, because IM is unique in its real-time, text messaging capacity, this study pulls together areas in which research overall is lacking, and attempts to give new perspectives to traditional human communication study.

Based on the rising IM use among US college students, the research question is: For college students, controlling for gender and age, is there a correlation between the amount of IM use and the level of perceived intimacy between friends? Based on prior research, we expect to find support for the liberation perspective on the amount of IM use. Trends show that IM users are increasingly turning to textual cues, such as “emoticons,” to supplement the lack of visual and aural cues (Ogan, 1993; Walther, 1992). These adaptations help overcome the barriers said to limit CMC to shallow, superficial conversations presented in the relationship lost perspective. Furthermore, U.S. college campuses are becoming increasingly global environments where families are separated and friendships span worldwide. The hypothesis is: The amount of the amount of IM use will be positively correlated with the level of perceived intimacy between friends. This research design attempts to examine this relationship.

Method

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review/Rationale
  5. Two Conflicting Approaches in CMC
  6. Lost Perspective Literatures
  7. Liberated Perspective Literatures
  8. IM Use and Intimacy
  9. Research Question/Hypothesis
  10. Method
  11. Results
  12. Acknowledgements
  13. References
  14. Appendix

Participants

Participants in the study were 138 college students at a large university in the northeastern United States. Every third student exiting one of three central campus buildings was asked to fill out a short survey on IM at the university. The three buildings were selected based on their central location and decentralized patronage (populated by a variety of majors and ages). The buildings were the student union center, main campus library, and graduate school lounge and café (often populated by both undergraduate and graduate students). The response rate was 58.9 %. Once data collection was complete (N=138), participants who indicated they did not use IM software to talk with friends were excluded from analysis. 89% of our respondents stated that they did use IM, while 11% said they did not.

Procedure

We administered surveys in teams of two to help maintain consistent count in heavy traffic areas. Students who agreed to participate in the survey were asked to read and sign an informed consent form that explained that the survey was part of a communication course project. The two-page, 15-question survey (Appendix) that contained measures for amount of IM (defined in the survey as “AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger, ICQ, etc.”), location of IM use, and intimacy among “IM friends” was administered over a four-day period on campus. Data was gathered on a Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday in early November. Data was also gathered during morning, midday, afternoon, and evening hours.

Independent Variable Measures

The survey contained measures for the amount of IM use (actual use and idle time on the program) and IM use location. In a study of MUD use, Utz (2000) has found that people who continuously run a window with the MUD in the background of their computer report high numbers of MUD use per week, although their actual usage may be lower. For this reason, we found a distinction between time idle and actual amount of use necessary (also supported in a pretest). To measure the amount of IM use, participants were asked to estimate amount of time per day spent with IM software idle and the amount of time spent actually talking with friends. Participants were also asked to estimate the frequency with which they use IM at home (or dorm), computer lab, or at work (or the office).

Dependent Variable Measures

Tolstedt and Stokes (1983) describe intimacy, the dependent variable, in three parts: verbal (self-disclosure), affective (feelings of closeness and emotional bonding), and physical intimacy (physical expressions of love, such as kissing, hugging, and sex). As mentioned before, this research focuses on non-physical intimacy, in which physical intimacy does not play a major role. As an alternative, three categories of intimacy questions were employed: verbal intimacy, affective intimacy, and questions from the Miller Social Intimacy Scale (MSIS) (Miller & Lefcount, 1982). MSIS was selected as an additional measure for intimacy, because this was one of the few measures for intimacy that addresses interpersonal relationships between friends and within marriages. It addresses the frequency of affective intimacy. The majority of other intimacy measures focus solely on marriages.

Verbal intimacy items (questions 7 a-g), addressing conversation content or self-disclosure, were based on a 10-point frequency scale anchored by never (1) and almost always (10). After running a factor analysis, questions 7 a, b, c and g were removed from analysis. Question 8c, based on a Likert scale, was reverse coded. This item also addressed verbal intimacy; however, after running a factor analysis, this item was also removed from analysis. Affective intimacy items (questions 6 a-g and 8d), addressing feelings of proximity, understanding, and trust, were operationalized by a 10-point Likert scale ranged from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (10). Questions 6c and 6g were reverse coded in order to make them consistent with other affective-intimacy items, such that higher scores indicate greater intimacy. Questions 6a and 6g were also eliminated after running a factor analysis. Finally, six items (question 9 a-f) from MSIS were included. These 10-point frequency scale items range from never (1) to almost always (10), and they address the frequency of affective intimacy. From this point on, these frequency-based items will be referred to as social intimacy. After doing a factor analysis, question 9a was eliminated. In addition, factor analysis showed that questions 8a and 8b should be categorized into social intimacy. We thus combined the raw scales because they are on the same number of scale points, i.e., 10, and the frequency items could very well be read as an agreement item. Age and gender were recorded as control variables.

Data Analytical Techniques

Descriptive statistics included frequency distributions of age, gender, amount and location of IM use, and computer ownership. Factor analysis was used to determine if any natural correlations existed between the data collected for intimacy measures. Cronbach's alpha was used to confirm a strong relationship between intimacy factors. Regression analysis was used to examine the correlation between the amount of IM use (a continuous variable) and intimacy (a continuous variable).

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review/Rationale
  5. Two Conflicting Approaches in CMC
  6. Lost Perspective Literatures
  7. Liberated Perspective Literatures
  8. IM Use and Intimacy
  9. Research Question/Hypothesis
  10. Method
  11. Results
  12. Acknowledgements
  13. References
  14. Appendix

Univariate Analysis

Descriptive information

From our sample of 138 participants, 89% acknowledged that they use IM (N = .123). The average age of our participants was 21.4 years old. 64% of the sample was male, and 46% was female. Participants reported using IM most often at home (score of 7.47 on a scale of 10), as opposed to the computer lab (3.7/10) or at work (2.18/10). On average, they reported having the software on, and idle, on average, for about 10 hours per day, however, they reported actually using IM only about 2 hours per day.

Reliabilities

Because each intimacy factor focuses on different aspects of intimacy, they were kept separate when doing analyses. Cronbach's alphas for verbal, affective, and social (MSIS) intimacy were .74, .82, and .87, respectively, indicating acceptable internal consistency(Table 1).

Table 1.  Factor analysis for intimacy
 Verbal IntimacyAffective IntimacySocial Intimacy
Verbal Intimacy   
Love/sex.83.01.25
Significant others.80−.11.21
Social gathering.68−.07−.00
Affective Intimacy   
Talk anything.23−.67.14
Shallow conversation (RC)−.08−.60.19
Understand me−.03−.76−.01
Feel close.11−.81.05
Warm atmosphere.16−.78.13
Understand friends' feelings−.05−.67.29
Social Intimacy   
Can't wait.03−.07.64
Face-to-face.06.03.62
Important to listen.09−.14.73
Satisfying.06−.39.69
Encouraging to me.16−.17.86
Important in life.11−.17.86
Encouraging to them.23−.17.72
    
Eigenvalue1.993.383.98
Proportion of explained variance.12.21.25
Total eigenvalue = 9.35
Total proportion of explained variance = .58
Bivariate Analysis

Pairwise correlations confirmed that a relationship did in fact exist between the amount of IM use and intimacy(Table 2). Stepwise regressions were thus used to test our hypothesis of a positive relationship between the amount of IM use and level of perceived intimacy. Our hypothesis was supported by data (Tables 3–5). As the amount of IM use increased, so did the level of perceived verbal intimacy, F(1, 108) = 8.24, p < .01. As the amount of IM use increased, so did the level of perceived affective intimacy, F(1, 108) = 4.87, p < .05. As the amount of IM use increased, so did the level of perceived social intimacy, F(1, 108) = 10.24, p < .01.

Table 2.  Pairwise correlations among age, the amount of IM use and verbal, affective, and social intimacy *p< .05, **p< .01, ***p< .001.
 12345
1. Age −.19*−.22*.11−.15
2. IM Use Amount  .32***.19*.34***
3. Verbal Intimacy   .16.35***
4. Affective Intimacy    .38***
5. Social Intimacy     
Table 3.  Stepwise multiple regression among the amount of IM use, age, gender and verbal intimacy *p< .05, **p< .01, ***p< .001.
 βRSquare ChangeF Statistics
IM Use Amount.23** 8.24
Age−.05.02 
Gender−.22.027.62
Table 4.  Stepwise multiple regression among the amount of IM use, age, gender and affective intimacy *p< .05, **p< .01, ***p< .001.
 βRSquare ChangeF Statistics
IM Use Amount.17* 4.87
Age.08*.044.17
Gender−.02.00.02
Table 5.  Stepwise multiple regression among the amount of IM use, age, gender and social intimacy *p< .05, **p< .01, ***p< .001.
 βRSquare ChangeF Statistics
IM Use Amount.22** 10.24
Age−.01.00.16
Gender−.16.011.45
Discussion

Although our study should be considered preliminary due to the relatively small sample, this research has started a new direction for studies of communication technologies and their influences on interpersonal communication. Our results lend support to our hypothesis that there is a positive relationship between the amount of IM use and verbal, affective, and social intimacy. Our findings are consistent with the liberation position of CMC relationships, and suggest that IM promotes rather than hinders intimacy. What is more, our research indicates that frequent conversation via IM actually encourages the desire to meet face-to-face. For example, participants who reported heavy IM use more strongly agreed with the following statement in our questionnaire “after talking with my friends on IM, I want to see them face-to-face.” This finding implies that online communication can reinforce face-to-face interaction.

Consideration of some of the attributes of IM — near synchronous and text-based — could explain our findings. Text-messaging allows for students to more carefully craft messages, than, for instance, telephone or face-to-face communication — indicative of a situation that encourages intimate exchange (Lenhart et al., 2001). In addition, the notion of privacy, or a private atmosphere, seems to play a central role in the level of intimacy exposed in IM communication. We must also take into account the environment in which people use IM. One theory in interpersonal relationships that may be applied to IM use is that the level of self-disclosure is based, to some extent, on the surroundings (Fitzpatrick, 1988). Research has found that many people often use IM at home, late at night, and separately, where they are vulnerable and lonely (Hu, 2004). Consequently, our research show that more IM users disclose personal, private matters at home than they would elsewhere, which suggests that the context of IM heavily contributes to the relationship between IM and intimacy in college students groups.

The implications of our research suggest that colleges and universities could use IM to appeal to potential college students. That students enhance their relationships with friends through IM may also be applied to family members. Family members, knowledgeable of their college children's changing communication habits, may adopt the technology as well. Parents of college students are reported to use IM considerably less than their children who are in college, but growth in IM among older demographic populations may be imminent (Lenhart et al., 2001).

Manufacturers of IM could tailor the medium more for the college user. Suggested improvements include offering a variety of interfaces from which the college student might choose to develop a personal setting, and increasing the number of available emoticons. Additionally, from an advertising perspective, manufacturers could target college-aged students who will be leaving family and friends behind to attend college. They could emphasize the usefulness of their product(s) for staying connected with friends and family, and, likewise, they could target parents who want to stay connected to their children away at school. Our study helps confirm that geographically remote friends and families can and do benefit from IM. Advertisers can use that knowledge of audience to tailor campaigns.

Limitations of our study include those often understood to be shortcomings of survey research, namely recall of our participants and our inability to show causation. Also, our intimacy measures could be influenced by the mood of our participants and the friends about whom each participant was thinking at the time of our survey. We also asked our participants to generalize about their friendships in the context of IM. Level and type of friendships were not taken into account in our questionnaire, which hinders us from extending our findings to the variety of friends with which college students might communicate when using IM.

Therefore, our study could benefit from future research in which we address friendship at a micro level. Such an exploration should also include whether intimacy between friends has already been established before IM. Of course, a counter argument to that point is many college students might increasingly forge friendships online first. Nonetheless, we recognize that a stronger conceptualization of friends would strengthen our research. In addition to observing intimacy before IM use, establishing causation in our research will require at least an experiment or a longitudinal study, as well considering the degree to which we can rule out confounding or third variables such as friendship type.

Another area for further exploration is a comparison of IM to other media in order to better understand the extent to which IM contributes to intimacy between college students and their friends. According to Jones et al. (2002), IM accounts for 29% of online communication between college students and their friends, whereas e-mail accounts for 62%. Considering the popularity of other forms of online communication, and the relative newness of IM, other investigations should compare intimacy to various media. While our research focuses on intimacy exclusively within the context of IM, future research could examine the relationship between IM, e-mail, telephones, and cellular phones and intimacy in general.

Additionally, more demographic populations should be considered. Controlling for gender and age did not affect the relationship between IM and intimacy; but other demographic variables such as race, nationality, socio-economic status may have an affect on the relationship.

Lastly, we expect that additional methods of studying our dependent variable, in particular, a content or textual analysis, could provide further support for our results. We asked participants to generalize about the content of their IM conversations; however, we may be able to support our analysis of participants' survey responses with actual records of their conversations on IM. This, as well as other methodological approaches, may enhance our research.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review/Rationale
  5. Two Conflicting Approaches in CMC
  6. Lost Perspective Literatures
  7. Liberated Perspective Literatures
  8. IM Use and Intimacy
  9. Research Question/Hypothesis
  10. Method
  11. Results
  12. Acknowledgements
  13. References
  14. Appendix

This research was initially conducted as part of the course requirements of COMM 506: Introduction to Mass Communications Research, taught by Professor S. Shyam Sundar at The Pennsylvania State University. The authors would like to thank the advisor and the peers in the class who provided comments and suggestions on this research.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review/Rationale
  5. Two Conflicting Approaches in CMC
  6. Lost Perspective Literatures
  7. Liberated Perspective Literatures
  8. IM Use and Intimacy
  9. Research Question/Hypothesis
  10. Method
  11. Results
  12. Acknowledgements
  13. References
  14. Appendix
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Appendix

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review/Rationale
  5. Two Conflicting Approaches in CMC
  6. Lost Perspective Literatures
  7. Liberated Perspective Literatures
  8. IM Use and Intimacy
  9. Research Question/Hypothesis
  10. Method
  11. Results
  12. Acknowledgements
  13. References
  14. Appendix

QUESTIONNAIRE: INSTANT MESSENGER USE

**THANK YOU FOR TAKING A FEW MINUTES TO FILL OUT THIS SURVEY CAREFULLY AND COMPLETELY.**

  • 1. Do you ever go on-line? Y N

  • a. If no, go to number 10.

  • b. If yes, continue with the next question.

  • 2. Have you ever used any Instant Messenger (IM) software (e.g. AOL Instant Messenger [AIM], MSN Messenger, ICQ, etc.)? Y N

  • a. If no, go to number 11.

  • b. If yes, continue with the next question.

3. PLEASE ANSWER THE FOLLOWING.

  • a. On average, how many hours per day do you have your IM software on your computer? (0-24) _____ hrs

  • b. On average, how many hours per day do you actually use IM (versus just having the program open on your desktop)? (0-24) _____ hrs

4. PLEASE RATE THE FOLLOWING.

  • I use IM at/in:

  • some of the time almost always never

  • a.Home/Dorm

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • b. Computer Lab

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • c. Work/Office

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • d.Other places (please specify):

  • 5. Do you use IM to talk with your friends? Y N

  • a. If no, go to number 12.

  • b. If yes, continue with the next question.

6. PLEASE INDICATE THE EXTENT TO WHICH YOU AGREE WITH THE FOLLOWING STATEMENTS.

  • When I talk to my friends on IM:

  • strongly disagree disagree agree strongly agree

  • a. It's like they are in the next room.

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • b. I feel like I can talk about anything.

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • c. I feel like our conversation is predominately shallow.

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • d. I feel they really understand me.

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • e. I feel close to them.

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • f. A warm atmosphere is created.

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • g. I feel like they might judge me.

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

7. PLEASE RATE THE FOLLOWING.

When I talk to my friends on IM, generally our conversations are about: never some of the time almost always

  • a. Family-related issues

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • b. Fears

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • c. Future aspirations

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • d. Love/sex

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • e. Relationships with significant others

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • f. The latest social gathering

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • g. What happened to each of us during the day

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

8. PLEASE INDICATE THE EXTENT TO WHICH YOU AGREE WITH THE FOLLOWING STATEMENTS.

strongly disagree disagree agree strongly agree

  • a. I can't wait to see if my friends have sent me an instant message.

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • b. After talking with my friends on IM, I want to see them face-to-face.

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • c. I tend to keep very personal information to myself when talking with my friends on IM.

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • d. I am able to understand my friends' feelings when talking with them on IM.

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

9. PLEASE RESPOND TO THE FOLLOWING. never some of the time almost always

When you use IM to talk with your friends:

  • a. Do you feel close to your friends most of the time?

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • b. Do you feel it is important for you to listen to your friends' very personal disclosures?

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • c. Do you feel your relationship with you friend is satisfying?

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • d. Do you feel it is important to you that they be encouraging?

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • e. Do you feel your relationship with them is important in your life?

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • f. Do you feel like being encouraging and supportive to your friends when they are unhappy?

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

**PLEASE GO TO NUMBER 11.**

  • 10. Why don't you go on-line? (please explain)

  • 11. How often do you use the following media? never some of the time almost always

  • a. Telephone

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • b. Cellular phone

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • c. E-mail

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • d. Other (please specify)

  • 12. How often do you communicate with your friends using the following media? never some of the time almost always

  • a. Telephone

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • b. Cellular phone

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • c. E-mail

  • 1……2……3……4……5……6……7……8……9……10

  • d. Other (please specify)

  • 13. Age (in years): _____

  • 14. Gender: M F

  • 15. Do you own a computer? Y N

**END OF THE SURVEY. THANK YOU!!**