Until recently, much research has been devoted to determining whether computer-mediated communication (CMC) has negative consequences for human relationships and well-being (e.g., Kraut, Kiesler, Boneva, Cummings, Helgeson, & Crawford, 2002; Kraut, Patterson, Lundmark, Kiesler, Mukopadhyay, & Scherlis, 1998; Wästlund, Norlander, & Archer, 2001). However, recent research findings have not only disproved theoretical claims that CMC has a negative impact on human relationships, but they have shown that online interactions can even be better than face-to-face interactions under certain circumstances. For instance, it has been found that CMC may provide communicative settings in which individuals can take advantage of anonymity to voice their “true self” and free themselves from potentially negative social barriers (e.g., physical appearance and gender) associated with face-to-face interactions (Bargh, McKenna, & Fitzsimons, 2002). CMC modes also enable individuals to interact regardless of spatiotemporal constraints (Cantelmi, Del Miglio, Talli, & D'Andrea, 2000; Kraut et al., 1998), allowing new relationships to form and existing relationships to be maintained at a distance.
Most of the early research on CMC held a pessimistic view of online relationships. It considered online relationships to be shallow and impersonal because of the reduction in communication cues (i.e., contextual, visual, and aural) typical of CMC. Parks and Floyd (1996) used the term “reduced-cues perspective” to refer to theories that stress the richness of face-to-face communicative cues and present face-to-face communication as the heuristic for investigating all other communicative modalities (e.g., Daft & Lengel, 1984; Kiesler, Siegal, & McGuire, 1984). Not surprisingly, the reduced-cues perspective viewed CMC as an inappropriate modality for expressing oneself and receiving personal feedback (see Locke, 1998 for a review). For instance, both social-presence theory (Rice, 1987; Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976) and the social-context cues theory (Sproull & Kiesler, 1991) argued that individuals' awareness of and sensitivity to others are related to the number of channels or codes available for linking them. Therefore, as face-to-face interaction provides the greatest number of channels, these theories expected this mode to foster greater awareness and sensitivity than all other interactive modalities. Currently, however, the reduced-cues perspective is no longer considered a reliable theoretical framework for addressing CMC issues.
Notwithstanding differences in informational richness and communicative synchronization (Treviño, Webster, & Stein, 2000; Webster & Treviño, 1995), CMC modes have successfully enabled individuals to interact regardless of spatiotemporal constraints. However, while much CMC research has focused on the issue of sensorial channels (a spatial issue), less research has addressed the issue of velocity (a temporal issue). Occasionally, authors have acknowledged that CMC allows individuals to greatly reduce communicative delays resulting from the communicators' location and/or daily engagements (Cantelmi et al., 2000; Kraut et al., 1998). The present research extends the original reduced-cues perspective by taking into account not only the reduction in communicative channels but also communicative speed. Surprisingly, to our knowledge, no research has been carried out to explicitly investigate the velocity aspect (i.e., the temporal issue) of CMC. In order to account for the lack of this perspective on mediated human communication, Wicklund and Vandekerckhove (2000) recently produced an analysis in which they consider the psychological consequences of the use of speed communication devices that lack sensorial stimulation.
Speed Communication Analysis
Using a motivational analysis of human interactions (Lewin, 1926; 1935) as a starting point, Wicklund and Vandekerckhove (2000) argue that the speed of some communication devices might promote a substitutive effect (cf., Mahler, 1933) between mediated and face-to-face interactions. In other words, if an individual perceives that the speed of the communication device is similar to that of the face-to-face mode (i.e., the recipient is perceived to be at hand), the individual's motivation to use mediated communications would be equivalent to that for the face-to-face modality. As a consequence, communication speed-facilitating devices should lead the communicators to behave as they would in a face-to-face interaction, which is conceptualized as being the “original interaction form.” Crucially, individuals undertaking speedy communication would also require sensorial stimulation for an optimal communicative experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), like in face-to-face interactions. Yet, in many speed-facilitating devices sensorial stimulation is completely missing (e.g., email and chat rooms) or quite poor (e.g., video chat rooms). According to Wicklund and Vandekerckhove (2000), the use of speed-facilitating devices lacking in multidimensional stimulation might bring about important social-psychological consequences. Specifically, the authors expect users of such devices (a) to abbreviate their interactions and (b) to be more egocentric than individuals who communicate by means of either slow communication or face-to-face modes. In contrast, it is important to note that the reduced-cues perspective on communication (Parks & Floyd, 1996) cannot predict a similar pattern of social-psychological differences.
Wicklund and Vandekerckhove (2000) use the term “egocentrism” to refer to a decrement in an individual's capacity to take the other's perspective into account during an interaction, i.e., a shortfall in cognitive processes devoted to working out the other's point of view. Wicklund and Vandekerckhove (2000) argue that a multiplicity of sensorial stimulations enables individuals to have (a) prolonged interactions and (b) an optimal degree of perspective taking in the face-to-face mode. In contrast, in asynchronous and slow interactions (e.g., the traditional letter), both the interactive duration and perspective taking are supported by increased cognitive processes such as thinking about and remembering the other, associated with the delayed perception that is typical of these modalities. More precisely, the perception delay due to slow interaction might work as a frustrating stimulus that boosts the individual's cognitive processes (e.g., thinking about the partner) likely to reduce the frustration state (Amsel, 1958; Mischel, 1974). Speed-facilitating devices, since they reduce communication delay and therefore its perception, should lead to a breakdown of these delay-related cognitive processes without, however, providing individuals with the external stimulation to replace them. In other words, the speed afforded by these devices would deplete the communicators' “patience” that is required to actively cope with the interactive delay (cf., Mischel, 1996) of the feedback, i.e., the time needed to write the answer.
Clark and Schaffer (1989) have referred to the notion of common grounding to describe the process that makes comprehension possible among different individuals. Within their framework, common grounding is understood in terms of perspective taking, in which a central role is attributed to the knowledge shared by the individuals. This relationship could be described in linear terms: The more the communicators' perspective taking increases, the more they will rely on shared knowledge. In “static communication,” i.e., non-interactive situations in which messages are written and recipients cannot respond, there is evidence that communicators take others' knowledge and perspectives into account when they formulate their messages (Krauss & Fussel, 1991). Based on these observations, a reduction of perspective taking in asynchronous communications should coincide with a reduction of cognitive and behavioral aspects associated with the communicators' shared knowledge. Specifically, as the communicators' perspective taking decreases, the amount of shared knowledge in the message should decrease as well.
The purpose of the present investigation was to test Wicklund and Vandekerckhove's (2000) hypothesis by comparing email to postal letter communications. Contrary to postal letters, email gives the person a sense that the recipient can be reached and dealt with quickly (Manger, Wicklund, & Eikeland, 2003). Therefore, speed communication analysis (Wicklund & Vandekerckhove, 2000) would consider email, but not postal letters, to be a speed-facilitating device that leads people to (a) abbreviate their communication and (b) reduce their perspective taking. It is important to note that the reduced-cues perspective cannot explain differences between email and postal letter communications. Wicklund and Vandekerckhove (2000) argued that, by focusing almost exclusively on sensorial channels, earlier theories had little explanatory power in that they did not take into account communicative speed in their theoretical frameworks.