Electronic Journal of Sociology (2002)

ISSN: 1198 3655

What Does Research Say about the Nature of Computer-mediated Communication:
Task-Oriented, Social-Emotion-Oriented, or Both?

Yuliang Liu
School of Education
Instructional Technology
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Edwardsville, Illinois
[email protected]

Abstract

With computer-mediated communication (CMC) being widely employed in all fields, a growing body of CMC research has accumulated in recent decades. The research regarding the nature of CMC has been very controversial. Is CMC task-oriented, social-emotion-oriented, or both? Based on two delineated research models in CMC, this literature review indicates that CMC is both task- and social-emotion-oriented in nature. Specifically, this paper discusses, compares, and contrasts several major aspects of these two research models. Results indicate that both models share similarities in three areas: research methods, participants’ characteristics, and task characteristics. However, both models have differences in three other areas, including (1) theoretical foundations, (2) technology involved and experimental duration in research methodology, and (3) major findings. Suggestions for future CMC research are proposed in order to more clearly identify the nature of CMC environments.

Introduction

Computer-mediated communication (CMC) represents a different medium of human communication and has been described as an “altered state of communication,” including altered physical environments, altered time and space, and altered structures in communication (Vallee, Johansen, & Sprangler, 1975). CMC systems were initially used to facilitate and coordinate emergency tasks among geographically distributed individuals or groups (Hiltz & Turoff, 1978). Now, CMC offers many kinds of services, including asynchronous e-mail, computer conferencing, bulletin boards, electronic databases, facsimile, teletex, videotex (Rice, 1990), voice messaging (Gluck, Coliz, & Rosenbaum, 1991), chatrooms (Halbert, 1999), Mud Object Oriented (MOO) (Jacobson, 1999), or Multi-User-Dungeons (MUD) (Utz, 2000). In addition, CMC has demonstrated a variety of advantages over other media. CMC combines the interactivity and group communication features of face-to-face (FtF) communication; time and place independence and mediated communication features of distance education (Kearsley, 1993), as well as new modes of communication storage and retrieval (Culnan & Markus, 1987). Thus, a rich source of data can be accumulated in CMC compared with FtF or other media channels (Rice, 1990).

CMC has been employed in many fields, including political forums (e. g., Hill & Hughes, 1997), educational computer conferencing (e. g., Harasim, 1986, 1987; Iseke-Barnes, 1996), cooperative research (e. g., Ginther, 1993; Walther, 1997), organizational communication (e. g., Rice, 1986, 1987a; Steinfield, 1986, 1992), social support communication (e. g., Weinberg, Schmale, Uken, & Wessel, 1995), and interpersonal communication (e. g., Kraut, Patterson, Lundmark, Kiesler, Mukopadhyay, & Scherlis, 1998). Thus, there has accumulated a growing body of research in different fields, which indicates that CMC has two basically separate dimensions: task communication and social-emotion communication. This literature review is based on these two delineated models: the task-oriented model and the social-emotion-oriented model.

Many of the earlier studies on CMC focused on the task-oriented communication and seldom dealt with CMC’s emotional content. Such research indicated that CMC was experienced as more businesslike, depersonalized, and task-oriented. Since the task-oriented nature of CMC had been generally accepted, it was the focus of most CMC research literature prior to the 1990’s (e. g., Connolly, Jessup, & Valacich, 1990; Hiltz, Johnson, & Turoff, 1986; Kiesler, Siegel, & McGuire, 1984). More recent studies have investigated CMC environments from a different perspective and have focused on CMC’s social-emotional nature (e. g., Jacobson, 1999; Lea & Spears, 1991; Liu, 2002; Liu, Ginther, & Zelhart, 2001; Parks & Floyd, 1996; Rice, 1987b; Walther, 1992a, 1992b, 1994, 1995, 1996; Walther & Burgoon, 1992). Research on the social-emotion-oriented model indicates that CMC systems can facilitate the social-emotional content exchange.

The major goal of this paper is to identify the nature of CMC: task-oriented, social emotion-oriented, or both. Specifically, the major aspects of the task-oriented model and the social-emotion-oriented model will be reviewed, discussed, compared, and contrasted. Finally, suggestions for future CMC research will be proposed.

Models of Cmc: The Task-Oriented Vs. the Social-Emotion-Oriented

In this section, the two delineated research models mentioned previously are discussed in three aspects: (a) theoretical foundations, (b) research methodology, and (c) major findings. Then, a brief comparison of both models will be briefly discussed. Also, a brief table will be presented to indicate the major differences between those two research models.

The Task-Oriented Model

Theoretical Foundations

The task-oriented research model in CMC is primarily based on three theories: Social Presence Theory, Media/Information Richness Theory, and Social Context Cues Theory. According to these three theories, FtF communication has the most social cues and information (including verbal and nonverbal cues) to convey emotions in communication, while CMC communication has the least social cues and information (limited to only verbal cues). Therefore, CMC tends to be inherently task-oriented and to lack emotional content in communication.

Social Presence Theory. According to Social Presence Theory (Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976), social presence refers to the extent to which a medium is perceived as conveying the actual physical presence of the communicators. Thus, social presence not only depends on the communication of words, but also on a variety of nonverbal cues such as physical distances, postures, facial expressions, and the like. According to this theory, different types of media vary in their “capacity to transmit information about facial expression, direction of looking, posture, dress and nonverbal, vocal cues” (Short et al, 1976, p. 65). Therefore, from the perspective of Social Presence Theory, CMC environments lack nonverbal cues and are destined to lack emotions.

Media/Information Richness Theory. According to Daft and Lengel (1984, 1986), Media/Information Richness Theory refers to the extent to which a medium or information is perceived as rich or lean by the communicators. The communication effect is influenced by the richness of the media or information among the communicators. According to this theory, information is a key construct for understanding organizational process and structure. Organizations must use information to reduce equivocality and uncertainty in vertical information transfer and for coordinating internal activities. Communication media differ in the richness of information processed. According to this theory, CMC environments have the least rich information, while FtF environments are the richest.

Social Context Cues Theory. Social Context Cues Theory is primarily based on work by Kiesler et al. (1984) and Dubrovsky, Kiesler, and Sethna (1991). Social Context Cues Theory refers to the extent to which a medium is perceived as providing social context cues to the communicators. Kiesler et al. (1984) cautioned that CMC has “(a) a paucity of social context information, and (b) few widely shared norms governing its use” (p. 1126). In addition, according to Dubrovsky et al. (1991), the status hierarchy of a communication exchange can regulate group behavior if group members perceive the social order. People perceive the social order through both static and dynamic social context cues. Static cues come from people’s appearance. Dynamic cues come from people’s behavior, such as frowning with unhappiness and nodding approval. According to this theory, CMC environments have the least social context cues, while FtF environments have the most social context cues in communication.

Since these three theories have similarities, they are all referred to as the “cues-filtered-out” perspective (Culnan & Markus, 1987). From this perspective, nonverbal cues not only regulate social interaction, but also supply valuable information about the communicators. This kind of information is very helpful in forming impressions, assessing the ways the participants understand and reply to messages, and determining the truthfulness of the participants’ communication. Accordingly, the filtered-out cues affect the communicators in three ways: regulation of social interaction, perception and impression formation, and awareness of the social context of communication. Based on this perspective, all CMC environments could be viewed as less personal and less socially emotional than FtF environments because of the constraints of perceived cues in the interaction.

Research Methodology

Participants. There are three aspects to address concerning participants: user profile, group size, and group structure. User profile refers to the participants’ computer experience, group gender composition, and acquaintance with group members. User profile is one of the three essential interacting factors for successful CMC (Nunamaker, Vogel, & Konsynski, 1989). Most research addressing user profile variables in the task-oriented communication involved randomly assigned research partners who were, therefore, typically new to each other. Most participants had no experience with CMC. Participants were assigned to either female-only groups (e. g., Dubrovsky et al., 1991; Savicki, Kelly, & Lingenfelter, 1996), male-only groups (e. g., Dubrovsky et al., 1991; Savicki et al., 1996), or mixed-gender groups (e. g., Connolly et al., 1990; Herschel, Cooper, Smith, & Arrington, 1994; Hiltz et al., 1986; Kiesler, Zubrow, Moses, & Geller, 1985; Savicki et al., 1996). Mixed-gender groups were used in most studies. In addition, participants received a short period of training about the use of communication technology before the experiment (e. g., Hiltz et al., 1986).

The second major aspect is group size. Research on task-oriented communication involves groups of varying sizes. These group sizes included three-member groups (e. g., Hollingshead, 1996; McGuire, Kiesler, & Siegel, 1987; Siegel, Dubrovsky, Kiesler, & McGuire, 1986; Valacich, Dennis, & Nunamaker, 1992; Weisband, 1992), four-member groups (e. g., Connolly et al., 1990), five-member groups (e. g., Hiltz et al., 1986), six-member groups (e. g., Savicki et al., 1996), or nine-member groups (Valacich et al., 1992).

The third major aspect is group structure, including communication settings, incentives for participation, and the anonymity of the communication. Most studies on the task-oriented communication were done in organizations, including the manager’s level (e. g., Hiltz, Turoff, & Johnson, 1989; McGuire et al., 1987). Other studies were done in school settings (e. g., Dubrovsky et al., 1991; Hollingshead, 1996). In terms of incentives for participation, student participants usually either received course credit (e. g., Connolly et al., 1990; Dubrovsky et al., 1991; Hollingshead, 1996; Valacich et al., 1992; Weisband, 1992), or received financial payments (e. g., Siegel et al., 1986; Weisband, 1992), while employees usually received payments (e. g., Hiltz et al., 1986; Siegel et al., 1986). In terms of anonymity, some studies involved anonymous communication (e. g., Valacich et al., 1992) while others did not (e. g., Hiltz et al., 1986). Additionally, others involved both anonymous and non-anonymous communication (e. g., Connolly et al., 1990; Hiltz et al., 1989; Siegel et al., 1986).

Technology. According to Nunamaker et al. (1989), the type of technology is another factor in CMC environments. Most research on the task-oriented communication involved synchronous communication technology among groups (e. g., Hiltz et al., 1986; Hollingshead, 1996; Kiesler et al., 1985). Some research used either asynchronous communication technology (e. g., Siegel et al., 1986) or both asynchronous and synchronous technologies (e. g., Siegel et al., 1986). The major technology formats used in research on the task-oriented communication included Interactive Converse Program (e. g., Kiesler et al., 1985; McGuire et al., 1987; Siegel et al., 1986), Computer Conferencing (CC) for Communication (e. g., Hiltz et al., 1986), Electronic Brainstorming System (EBS) (e. g., Connolly et al., 1990; Valacich et al., 1992), Electronic Information Exchange System (EIES) (e. g., Turoff, 1978), MM Mail Program (e. g., Weisband, 1992), Electronic Meeting Technology (EMT) (e. g., Dennis, Heminger, Nunamaker, & Vogel, 1990), and Group Decision Support Systems (GDSS) (e. g., Fulk, Holmes, Watson, DeSanctis, 1993; Poole, Holmes, Watson, & DeSanctis, 1993). These synchronous technologies require that participants be online and communicate in real time.

Procedure. The three aspects of procedure to be discussed are research methods, task characteristics, and experimental duration. The first aspect is research method. Most research on the task-oriented communication involved controlled laboratory experiments (e. g., Connolly et al., 1990; Dubrovsky et al., 1991; Hollingshead, 1996; Kiesler et al., 1985; McGuire et al., 1987; Siegel et al., 1986; Valacich et al., 1992). However, some research on the task-oriented communication also involved either field experiments (e. g., Eveland & Bikson, 1988; Kiesler & Sproull, 1986; Savicki et al., 1996) or organizational case studies (e. g., Sproull & Kiesler, 1986). In addition, almost all the above studies were quantitatively oriented.

The second aspect is task characteristics. This is another essential factor in CMC environments (Nunamaker et al., 1989). Most research on the task-oriented communication involved one or more of the following areas: discussion of a series of questions to get to know each other (e. g., Kiesler et al., 1985), group problem solving and decision making (e. g., Beckwith, 1987; Phillips, Santoro, & Kuehn, 1988), decision making and idea generation (e. g., Connolly et al., 1990), choice-dilemma problems (e. g., Siegel et al., 1986; Weisband, 1992), homicide investigation tasks (e. g., Hollingshead, 1996), or risk decision making such as investment alternatives (e. g., McGuire et al., 1987). In addition, some used two contrasting types of tasks: the technical or information exchange tasks and the social-emotional or humanistic tasks (e. g., Hiltz et al., 1986).

The third aspect is experimental duration. Most research on the task-oriented communication involved a short period of experimental duration, mostly less than one hour. Specifically, experimental durations included 20 minutes in both FtF and CMC conditions (e. g., Kiesler et al., 1985), approximately 30 minutes in both CMC and FtF conditions (e. g., Connolly et al., 1990; Siegel et al., 1986), approximately 30 minutes in CMC environments (e. g., Valacich et al., 1992), approximately 45 minutes in both CMC and FtF conditions (e. g., Hollingshead, 1996), about 45 minutes in CMC environments (e. g., Herschel et al., 1994), and 60 or 90 minutes in both FtF and CC conditions (e. g., Hiltz et al., 1986). However, there were a few field experiments that extended experimental duration to as long as about three weeks (e. g., Savicki et al., 1996).

Major Findings

The major findings resulting from the task-oriented model involved (a) equal participation (e. g., Dubrovsky et al., 1991; Gale, Dotson, Huber, Nagireddy, Manders, Young, & Carter, 1995; McLeod, 1992; Siegel et al., 1986; Spears & Lea, 1994; Warschauer, 1995/1996), (b) uninhibited behavior (e. g., Dutton, 1996; Kiesler et al., 1985; Siegel et al., 1986), (c) increased quality of decision making (e. g., Connolly et al., 1990; Gale et al., 1995; Hollingshead, 1996; McLeod, 1992; Savicki et al., 1996), (d) increased time to reach a decision (e. g., McLeod, 1992; Siegel et al., 1986), and (e) depersonalization (e. g., Kiesler et al., 1985; McLeod, 1992).

Equal participation. Dubrovsky et al., (1991) found that status and expertise inequalities in participation were strikingly reduced in CMC discussions. The significant feature is that both high and low-status members tended to be first advocates in CMC discussions. Equal participation was also found in other situations, including the second language classroom (Warschauer, 1995/1996).

Uninhibited behavior. Siegel et al. (1986) found that group members exhibited more uninhibited behavior, and included more inflammatory and strong expressions in CMC environments. Kiesler et al. (1984) found more uninhibited remarks in CMC than in FtF conferences, and more uninhibited remarks in anonymous CMC environments than non-anonymous CMC environments.

Increased quality of decision making. Gale et al. (1995) found that the group support systems in CMC environments can improve brainstorming. Hollingshead (1996) found that the mixed-status group made worse decisions and referred less to critical information than equal-status groups in both CMC and FtF environments. Valacich et al. (1992) found that larger groups generated significantly more and higher quality ideas than small groups.

Increased time to reach a decision. Hiltz et al. (1986) found that participants were less likely to reach on agreement in CMC environments. Other research also found that CMC groups reached on consensus in decision making less often and took a longer period of time than FtF groups when the time was restricted (e. g., Hiltz et al., 1986; Siegel et al., 1986).

Depersonalization. Kiesler et al. (1985) reported that they could not find any influence of CMC environments on physiological arousal, nor on emotions or self-evaluations. In addition, Kiesler et al. found that participants in CMC groups evaluated each other lower than those in FtF groups. From the perspective of Kiesler et al. (1985), CMC environments were impersonal.

The Social-Emotion-Oriented Model

Theoretical Foundations

The social-emotion-oriented research model in CMC environments is primarily based on Walther’s (1992b) Social Information Processing Model, which is based on principles in social cognition and interpersonal relationship development from social psychology. According to Walther, the Social Information Processing Model refers to the way in which communicators process relational and social identity cues using various media. Communicators who use any medium experience similar needs for affinity and uncertainty reduction. To meet these needs, CMC participants will adapt their textual and linguistic behaviors to the presentation and solicitation of socially revealing and relational behavior. However, CMC’s limited cues cause the medium to be unable to convey all the task-related and the social-emotion-related information within as little time as multichannel FtF environments. Therefore, the key difference between FtF and CMC environments is not a matter of capability, but a matter of rate. It can be inferred that the exchange of the social-emotional information in CMC environments may be slower than that of FtF environments. Therefore, this theoretical approach can provide a basis for research in CMC environments.

Research Methodology

Participants. Most research on the social-emotion-oriented communication involved college students in school settings. The participants were typically new to each other before the experiments, were usually assigned numbers, and were randomly assigned to either FtF or CMC conditions (e. g., Walther, 1992a, 1994, 1995; Walther & Burgoon, 1992). Participants represented different majors and class levels. In most cases, participants had no history of using CMC environments (e. g., Walther, 1992a, 1994; Walther & Burgoon, 1992). Some research involved regular e-mail users (e. g., Dana, 1999; Walther & Tidwell, 1995), while other research involved participants in organizations (e. g., Rice, 1982, 1992; Rice & Aydin, 1991; Schmitz & Fulk, 1991). Mixed-gender groups of participants were employed in most studies (e. g., Adkins & Brashers, 1995; Dana, 1999; Liu, 2002; Liu, Ginther, & Zelhart, 2001; Walther, 1995; Walther & Burgoon, 1992; Utz, 2000), however some studies involved female-only groups (e. g., Halbert, 1999). In addition, research on social-emotion-oriented communication also involved special populations such as emotionally disturbed adolescents (Zimmerman, 1987). Finally, participants received a short period of training about the use of communication technology before the experiment (e. g., Walther, 1992a, 1994, 1995).

The second major aspect is group size. In most research on the social-emotion-oriented communication, participants were involved in three-member groups (e. g., Adkins & Brashers, 1995; Lea & Spears, 1991; Walther, 1992a, 1994, 1995, 1997; Walther & Burgoon, 1992), five-member groups (e. g., Smilowitz, Compton, & Flint, 1988), six-member groups (e. g., Walther, 1997) or more (Liu, 2002; Liu, Ginther, & Zelhart, 2001). Additionally, research done in organizations involved large groups at a national level (e. g., Rice, 1982).

The third major aspect is group structure. Most studies on the social-emotion-oriented communication were done either in school settings (e. g., Liu, 2002; Liu, Ginther, & Zelhart, 2001; Walther, 1992a, 1994; Walther & Burgoon, 1992) or in organizations (e. g., Dana, 1999; Rice, 1982, 1992; Rice & Aydin, 1991; Rice, Chang, & Torobin, 1992; Schmitz & Fulk, 1991). Other studies were done among family members (e. g., Kraut et al., 1998). In terms of incentives for participation, most students participated for course credit (e. g., Liu, 2002; Liu, Ginther, & Zelhart, 2001; Walther, 1992a, 1994; Walther & Burgoon, 1992), while most employees participated without explicit incentives (e. g., Jacobson, 1999; Rice, 1982). In terms of the anonymity of communication, almost all studies were done anonymously across settings (e. g., Utz, 2000; Walther, 1992a, 1994; Walther & Burgoon, 1992).

Technology. Most research on the social-emotion-oriented communication model involved asynchronous communication technology. The most commonly used asynchronous CMC system was the Instructional Computer Conferencing System (ICOSY) (e. g., Rapaport, 1991; Smith, 1988; Walther, 1992a, 1995; Walther & Burgoon, 1992). Other systems included the Public Electronic Network (PEN) (e. g., Dutton, 1996; Wittig & Schmitz, 1996), Vaxnotes (e. g., Walther, 1994), EIES (e. g., Rice, 1982), Electronic Messaging Systems (e. g., Rice et al., 1989; Rice & Case, 1983), Bulletin Board System (BBS) (e. g., Danowski, 1982; Myers, 1987; Rice & Love, 1987), TeleNex (e. g., Tsui & Ki, 1996), chatrooms (Halbert, 1999), MOO (Jacobson, 1999), MUD (Utz, 2000), and Internet (e. g., Katz & Aspden, 1997). These systems used an asynchronous text-based electronic communication. Communicators need not be online simultaneously, but they could flexibly access the system and adapt their textual and linguistic contexts individually.

Procedure. In terms of research methods, most research on social-emotion-oriented communication involved controlled laboratory experiments (e. g., Liu, 2002; Liu, Ginther, & Zelhart, 2001; Matheson & Zanna, 1988, 1990; Walther, 1994, 1995; Walther & Burgoon, 1992). Others involved field experiments (e. g., Kraut et al., 1998; Rice, 1992; Rice & Aydin, 1991; Rice et al., 1992; Rice & Love, 1987; Tsui & Ki, 1996; Walther, 1997), surveys (e. g., Dana, 1999; Dutton, 1996; Grabowski, Suciati, & Pusch, 1990; Katz & Aspden, 1997; Utz, 2000), online interview (Jacobson, 1999), and case studies (e. g., Dutton, 1996). Most of the above studies were quantitatively oriented, while a few were qualitatively oriented (e. g., Burge, 1994; Myers, 1987).

In terms of task characteristics, most research on social-emotion-oriented communication involved decision-making tasks (e. g., Walther, 1992a, 1995; Walther & Burgoon, 1992), policy recommendations (e. g., Walther, 1995), academic policy dilemma tasks (e. g., Walther, 1994), controversial topics (e. g., Lea & Spears, 1991; Liu, 2002; Liu, Ginther, & Zelhart, 2001), problem-solving discussions (e. g., Matheson & Zanna, 1988, 1990), social support work (e. g., Wittig & Schmitz, 1996), topics about specific fields such as the medical field (e. g., Rice & Love, 1987), explicit tasks to perform with or without deadlines (e. g., Rice, 1982), international collaborating group assignments (e. g., Walther, 1997), and the sending of electronic memos (e. g., Rice et al., 1992).

In terms of experimental duration, most research on the social-emotion-oriented communication used a longer period of experimental duration compared with research on the task-oriented communication. These durations varied ranging from about 10 minutes to as long as several years. Specifically, some involved durations of less than an hour (e. g., Lea & Spears, 1991; Matheson & Zanna, 1990). However, most research extended for several weeks, including two or three weeks (e. g., Liu, 2002; Liu, Ginther, & Zelhart, 2001; Walther, 1997), five weeks (e. g., Walther, 1992a, 1995), over six weeks (e. g., Rice & Love, 1987; Walther, 1994), over 11 months (e. g., Zimmerman, 1987), over 16 months (e. g., Tsui & Ki, 1996), one to two years (e., g., Kraut et al., 1998), and over 2 years (e. g., Rice, 1982).

Major Findings

The major findings resulting from the social-emotion-oriented model in CMC environments involved (a) social and relational development (e. g., Beauvois & Eledge, 1995/1996; Burge, 1994; Freeman, 1980, 1984; Halbert, 1999; Liu, 2002; Parks & Floyd, 1996; Rice, 1982; Rice & Aydin, 1991; Rice & Love, 1987; Tsui & Ki, 1996; Utz, 2000; Walther, 1992a, 1995, 1996; Walther & Burgoon, 1992; Zimmerman, 1987), (b) individuation (e. g., Lea & Spears, 1991; Matheson & Zanna, 1988, 1990; Myers, 1987; Smilowitz et al., 1988; Spears, Lea, & Lee, 1990; Walther, 1994), (c) impression development (Jacobson, 1999; Liu, Ginther, & Zelhart, 2001; Walther, 1993a, 1993b), (d) humor (Baym, 1995), and (e) trust (Dana, 1999).

Social and relational development. Walther (1992a) found that CMC groups showed greater intimacy and social-orientation than FtF groups over time. Walther (1995) found that CMC groups achieved higher levels on several dimensions of interpersonal communication than FtF groups. Walther and Burgoon (1992) found that CMC groups improved in some relational aspects and that these subsequent levels were very close to those of FtF groups. Some research even indicates that CMC environments have exceeded the level of affection and social-emotion of parallel FtF interaction. This surprising phenomenon is called “hyperpersonal communication” in CMC environments (Vergoth, 1995; Walther, 1996). In addition, social and relational development was found in a variety of settings, including family (e.g., Katz & Aspden, 1997), school (e. g., Tsui & Ki, 1996; Zimmerman, 1987), organizational settings (e. g., Rice, 1982), social support work settings (e. g., Wittig & Schmitz, 1996), and others (Halbert, 1999; Jacobson, 1999; Liu, 2002; Utz, 2000).

Individuation. Matheson and Zanna (1988, 1990) found that CMC participants reported higher levels of private self-awareness and lower levels of public self-awareness. In addition, Smilowitz et al. (1988) replicated Asch’s “majority against a minority of one” study in a CMC environment. Smilowitz et al. found that CMC environments seemed to reduce the effects of social pressures to conform to majority judgments. In CMC environments, participants tended to be more critical of and more willing to assess the information they were receiving, compared with traditional FtF environments.

Impression development. Walther (1993a, 1993b) found that CMC users developed impressions of others gradually over several weeks, exhibiting a linear increase in impression development and reaching the level of FtF groups. In addition, CMC users can manipulate all kinds of both verbal and nonverbal cues to form images of one another. According to Liu, Ginther, and Zelhart (2001), CMC users can maintain a high frequency or long duration of messaging to achieve positive images of one another. In all, CMC users develop images of one another in the textual online communities based on all available cues online, as well as the cognitive models and conceptual categories they use in interpreting those cues (Jacobson, 1999).

Humor. According to Baym (1995), humor can be accomplished in CMC environments and it can be important in creating social meaning online. Moreover, since humor depends on group norms, knowledge, problems, and practices, it provides a different way for CMC participants to solve problems within the group, to produce unique identities and individuality, and to create group solidarity and identity in CMC environments. This study implies that humor can be a particularly important locus of social information in CMC environments.

Trust. According to Dana (1999), even though remote staff in organizations experienced significantly less frequent communication with their local middle managers, they still reported trust levels similar to local staff members via e-mail. Therefore, Dana concluded that e-mail can function the same as face-to-face communication to foster the development of trust between middle-managers and local/remote staff in their organizations.

A Comparison of Both Models

The task-oriented model and the social-emotion-oriented model have both similarities and differences. According to the discussions mentioned previously, the similarities are primarily shown in three aspects: research methods, participants’ characteristics, and task characteristics. In terms of research methods, both models involved several common research methods, including controlled laboratory experiments, field experiments, and case studies. In terms of participants’ characteristics, both models involved different group sizes, characteristics, settings, and incentives for participation, as well as either anonymous or identified. In terms of task characteristics, both models involved a variety of discussed topics, including decision making, choice dilemma tasks, and problem solving.

However, there are major differences between those two models. These differences are primarily shown in several other major aspects, including (a) theoretical foundations, (b) technology and experimental duration in research methodology, and (c) major findings. Here, the major focus is on the first two differences.

First, the theoretical foundations between the task-oriented and the social-emotion-oriented research models are quite different. As stated previously, the former is primarily based on the “cues-filtered-out” theory, including Social Presence Theory, Media/Information Richness theory, and Social Context Cues Theory, while the latter is primarily based on the Social Information Processing Model. The former model focuses on the reduction of social context cues of CMC environments, while the latter model emphasizes relational cues and social identities through the use and adaptation of other devices, such as paralinguistic cues.

Second, the CMC technology between the task-oriented and the social-emotion-oriented research models are quite different. The former tends to involve synchronous communication technology, while the latter tends to involve asynchronous communication technology. According to this review, technology systems may be another major factor affecting the findings of CMC research.

Third, the experimental duration between the task-oriented and the social-emotion-oriented research models are quite different. The former tends to involve a shorter period of experimental duration, while the latter tends to involve a longer period of experimental duration. Experimental durations may be an important factor affecting the major findings of CMC research. Fortunately, many researchers have noticed this finding (e. g., Walther, 1992a, 1992b; Williams, Rice, & Rogers, 1988). However, according to Walther, Anderson, and Park (1994), the influence of time on relational and/or social-emotional communication is not fully investigated or understood.

Finally, the following table is designed to present an overview of the major differences between the aforementioned two models in CMC literature.

Table 1 Major Differences Between the Two Models

Suggestions for Future Research

The task-oriented model and the social-emotion-oriented model are not dichotomous; they lie at opposing ends of a continuum. Therefore, a full and unbiased understanding of the nature of CMC environments requires that further CMC research be conducted with consideration of the following suggestions.

    Theoretical Foundations. Future CMC research should integrate “cues-filtered-out” theory and the Social Information Processing Model. According to Nunamaker et al. (1989), if any single perspective is given too much authority, a distorted view of a complex phenomenon in CMC environments will occur. If the focus is on the integration of these two theories, research findings might be different. In addition, both the top-down (theory-driven) model and the bottom-up (data-driven) model have to be integrated across research settings. This integration will bring about different research findings (Tangmanee, 1999).
  1. Technology. Future CMC research should involve both synchronous and asynchronous CMC technologies across research settings. If the focus is on a combination of these two technologies, research findings might be different.
  2. Research Methods. Future CMC research should include additional research methods to better investigate the nature of CMC. According to Danowski (1982), research methods such as network analysis, content analysis, and multidimensional scaling are especially suitable for CMC environments since they are sensitive and responsive to CMC’s specific features. Therefore, a multi-method, multi-trait approach should focus on a combination of research methods, as well as a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods (Denzin, 1989). This new approach could enrich our understanding and provide a solid foundation for future CMC research.
  3. Experimental Duration. Future CMC research should allow enough time for CMC participants’ communication and discussion. According to Walther (1992b), experimental durations may be an important factor for the impersonal findings in early CMC studies. These durations affect CMC and FtF groups differently. These two types of groups may behave differently at various stages in group relational development because CMC groups will likely take a longer period of time to exchange messages and accomplish tasks than their FtF counterparts.
  4. Communication Settings. Future CMC research should recruit participants from a variety of settings, not only school and organizational settings, but also other settings such as family and personal communication settings.
  5. Participant’s Experience. Future CMC research should recruit participants with a variety of CMC experiences. Very limited research on both models reviewed in this paper involved experienced CMC users. This limitation will also have problems in generalizing the results to other populations since more and more people have some kind of CMC experiences.
  6. Data Systems. Future CMC research should use an integration of both verbal and nonverbal data. According to Walther (1992b), one of the four limitations of prior CMC research is verbal-only data that is related to the nature of the data collected during research studies. Most current CMC research in both the task-oriented model and the social-emotion-oriented model still focuses on the effects of verbal cues (e. g., Adkins & Brashers, 1995; Parks & Floyd, 1996). Thus, this phenomenon should be changed.

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