When Online Meets Offline: The Effect of Modality Switching on Relational Communication

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computer-mediated communication, relational communication, social information processing theory, modality switching

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Collaborative partnerships developed via text-based computer-mediated communication (CMC) commonly shift interactions to alternative formats. Extant research indicates that shifting from one modality to another, or “modality switching,” can have profound positive and negative effects on relational outcomes. Drawing on social presence theory (Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976 Short, J., Williams, E. and Christie, B. 1976. The social psychology of telecommunications, London: Wiley) and social information processing theory (SIPT; Walther, 1992 Walther, J. B. 1992. Interpersonal effects in computer-mediated interaction: A relational perspective. Communication Research, 19: 52–89. Walther, J. B. 1996. Computer-mediated communication: Impersonal, interpersonal, and hyperpersonal interaction. Communication Research, 23: 3–43.), the present study examined the influence of meeting FtF after varying lengths of time interacting via CMC on relational communication. Consistent with predictions, remaining online yielded greater intimacy and social attraction than the other conditions in which FtF contact occurred. With respect to the CMC conditions, modality switching modestly enhanced relational outcomes in the “early” switching partnerships but more strongly dampened those of “late” switching ones.

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Communication Monographs, v. 74, issue 3, p. 287-310