Relational Communication in Computer-Mediated Interaction


  • The authors extend their gratitude to two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments, and to Brian Patterson for graphics assistance. An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, May 1991


This study involved an experiment of the effects of time and communication channel—asynchronous computer conferencing versus face-to-face meetings—on relational communication in groups. Prior research on the relational aspects of computer-mediated communication has suggested strong depersonalizing effects of the medium due to the absence of nonverbal cues. Past research is criticized for failing to incorporate temporal and developmental perspectives on information processing and relational development. In this study, data were collected from 96 subjects assigned to computer conferencing or face-to-face zero-history groups of 3, who completed three tasks over several weeks’time. Results showed that computer-mediated groups increased in several relational dimensions to more positive levels and that these subsequent levels approximated those of face-to-face groups. Boundaries on the predominant theories of computer-mediated communication are recommended, and principles from uncertainty reduction and social penetration are discussed.