Ann
Richards

Final
Research Paper

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English
201

01/26/2018

Computer-mediated
communication is an aspect of digital literacy and encompasses all human
communication that takes place between two or more electronic devices. You and
I are engaging in this method of communication right now, the submission of
this paper by way of the UWM D2L Drop-box by utilizing one of the library’s
computers, so it can be downloaded to your own personal device and read by you,
is an example of computer mediated communication. Throughout this semester I
have received informative course materials and personable messages alike, from
an instructor whose voice I have never heard and whose face I have never seen.  Computer mediated communication is unique
among other major methods of communication, and has created its own rules,
norms and effects on wider society. One major difference is how people feel
uninhibited in their digital communications and the differences in how their
communication reflects a lack of self-consciousness we do not see in other
major modes of communications. This loss of self-consciousness or
self-awareness is also known as deindividuation.

 

All the
way back in the 1950s a social psychologist, Leon Festinger, theorized that
when an individual is submerged in a group there is a loosening of their inner
restraints and they are more likely to engage in counter normative behavior. The
underlying idea is that being an individual is desirable in a supportive social
climate, but that in a threatening social environment people will more often
seek to be part of a group, to be a face in the crowd. This was far before the
rise of mass media and instant global communication via the internet and other
electronic communication systems. In the modern day we see the effect of this
loss of self-consciousness reflected in the kind of computer communication that
is now the norm. It has never been easier to blend in with the crowd and lose
your voice in the crowd of the masses. In Festinger’s model, anonymity leads to
a direct lack of criticism by others and reduces the behavior inhibitors. We
can also see this inhibiting behavior reduction or shirking of responsibility
in a group because then it feels as though responsibility is partially accepted
by a group of others. Deindividuation behavior is considered out-of-character
for the person. This behavior is often emotional, irrational, regressive, and
impulsive. Typically, there are social feedback loops in place that would
inhibit such behavior but in a lot of computer mediated communication these
restrictions are not present.

 

There
are several critical experiments that demonstrate the deindividuation effect in
anonymity in the way that people act and cooperate with one another. In one
experiment, a group of college students were instructed to deliver an electric
shock to another student- a confederate. Half of the students were made to wear
name tags and the other half were anonymous. The results were that the
anonymous students were much more aggressive in their willingness to deal with
shock compared to the groups where everyone had to wear name tags. The
conditions created a feeling of personal remoteness which made the girls less
self-conscious, less embarrassed, and reduced their inhibitions about hurting
the victim of the shocks. This effect is somewhat room is reminiscent of the
way that surgeons must learn to see patients as bodies in order to emotionally
distance themselves from act of cutting into another person’s body. It suggests
that the individual is able to compartmentalize their anonymous actions
separate from the overall sense of self.

Now
that we have discussed how deindividuation affects the way of that people
behave it’s important to understand how it affects computer mediated
communication, the Online Deindividuation Effect and the six factors that
contribute to it: Dissociative Anonymity, Invisibility, Asynchronicity,
Solipsistic Introjection, Dissociative Imagination and The Minimization of
Status and Authority. When discussing computer-mediated communication we are
often struck immediately that people are willing to say things online that they
would not be willing to say face to face this is the online disinhibition
effect we can see this affect working in benign ways such as unusual acts of
kindness or the sharing of deep personal information or as toxics disinhibition
which can mean anger hateful language aggressive behavior Etc. But what causes
this behavior? The Online Deindividuation Effect seeks to answer this question.
 

Dissociative
anonymity affects much of the computer mediated communication that happens in
modern society. It’s not easy to determine who a person is just by their
username or email address instead we must rely on personal disclosure from the
person we are interacting with. As a result, users are able to hide some or all
aspects of who they are or even alter some of these details. Anonymity allows
people to separate their actions online and their in-person sense of self. This
is also why they feel less self-conscious about disclosing and acting out, the
online self is compartmentalized, and they feel as though the online behaviors
“Are not really me.”

Invisibility
is another major factor in the deindividuation people experience online,
because people with most computer mediated communication cannot see each other,
they might not even know what the person looks like. Major exceptions are
modern advances in programs like Skype and other video chat applications. But
the vast majority of computer mediated communication is still text-based. As a result,
users have the courage to go places and do things that they wouldn’t otherwise
in a real-life setting, such as visit rooms where they know criminal activity
goes on or lurk on websites that commonly espouse ideologies that they disagree
with or are even fearful of. The lack of visual cues with this kind of text-based
communication is a huge part of the disconnect because the entire aspect of
body language and expression reading is off the table completely. This is
reminiscent of the way that a classic psychoanalytic psychologist would have
the analysts sit behind the patient in order to remain physically ambiguous so
that the patients couldn’t see any of their body cues or facial movements.
Physical reactions can be a big indicator and behavior inhibitor. We see people
react to this when they avert their eyes or avoid eye contact when discussing
something potentially embarrassing or deeply personal.

Asynchronicity
is another big part of deindividuation because the communication is not in “real
time” for the most part. People may take seconds, minutes, hours, days, or even
weeks to reply to somebody’s email. And not having to cope with someone’s
immediate reaction is oftentimes liberating for communicating. Some people find
it relieves anxiety to know that they’re not expected to have an immediate
reply to someone’s communication, that they have time to ruminate on the words
that they use and reflect on the tone and meaning. Some people even take
advantage of this asynchronous communication by leaving the domain or platform
after posting something particularly emotional vitriolic or hateful a type of
“Emotional Hit and Run.”

Solipsistic
introjection means that absent the face-to-face personal communication and
direct knowledge of the way a person looks and sounds, the individual often
perceive the person they’re communicating with in a way that’s different from
the way they actually are. People will be inclined to imagine the voice of the
person they’re communicating with or even come up with some idea what they look
like with their appearances what their gender is, what their races, what their
religion, place of origin, or accent. The mental control that a person has over
how they perceive the person they’re communicating with electronically gives
them a sense of security in that it’s “safer” to communicate with the voices in
one’s own head than it is with an actual living breathing person.

Dissociative
imagination this concept that one’s online persona exist separately and apart
from the real self. People often split the online fictional persona from their
offline behavior and actions they imagined that their behavior online is a sort
of game with different rules and different expectations that don’t apply to in
real life. That this behavior is a kind of make-believe that has nothing to do
with reality often times we see the people’s imagined online self will develop in
complexity and depth. This projection of the self also applies to the avatars
that people use to represent themselves visually. A classic example is the
work-a-day man who has a superhero as a profile picture, a representation that
is not necessarily the truest to life, and so the man can compartmentalize.

Minimization
of Status and Authority is a fascinating phenomenon that contributes to the
different attitudes that are expressed online. Authority figures express their
power and status in many ways: the environment that they’re in, their body
language, the way they dress, and their tone. But online in purely text
communication, these factors are gone, and it really reduces the impact of
their authority. In many environments online, everyone has an equal opportunity
to express him or herself regardless of status well to race or gender everybody
can make a free account and start typing away, expressing themselves. And while
the outside world may have an impact on one’s popularity or power in
cyberspace, far more important is one’s communication skills or the pure
meritocratic value of their ideas and their technical skills. As a result, the
appearance of authority is minimized.

Now
that we have addressed some of the major consequences of increased anonymity
and social decision-making we will examine the two leading theories show the
role of on anonymity in deindividuation behavior. The two main models are:
Deindividuation Theory and Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Effects or
SIDE. Deindividuation is often described as the effect that the group has on
the behavior of the individual where they become able to do things in groups
that they would not be inclined to do as an individual. That immersion in a
crowd or group results in a loss of self-identity. The role of anonymity in the
Deindividuation Theory suggests that anonymous conditions cause people to lack
awareness of who they are as an individual. In 2001 P.G. Zimbardo found that
the effect of anonymity is directly related to the group size, that the larger
the size of the group the higher degree of anonymity is experienced by the
individuals within that group and there will be a larger amount of anti-social
behavior as a result. An example of this is in 1976 researchers observe groups
of children as they were trick or treating on Halloween the researchers observe
that children who were wearing masks that conceal their identity or went
trick-or-treating in groups stole extra candy when they were alone with a candy
bowl. That same year, Douglas and McCarthy observed examined abroad range of
community computer mediated Communications and found the people whose
identities were unknown showed a greater tendency towards aggressive behavior
which includes hostile and threatening messages as well as less inhibition
about sharing personal and often sexual information. This was confirmed in 2006
when a survey found that 16 to 23 year old young people, particularly males,
indicated they were more inclined to share personal information and discuss
sexual topics over the Internet when they knew that their identities were
concealed. It was also discovered that the greater degree of anonymity that was
perceived by the subjects led to a greater intent for sexual disclosure. Both
the sexual and aggressive behavior are generally considered to be socially
unacceptable behaviors by broader society. Both were similarly less uninhibited
by social norms under these conditions.

The
social identity model of deindividuation effects model is described as an
approach that that uses conformity to group norms to explain these observed crowd
behaviors and is often viewed as the more optimistic theory. In this theory
group behavior is more about contributing to the good of the collective and thus
is a more positive outlook than deindividuation theory is. Particularly when it
comes to groups that individuals are convinced are important, he or she is more
likely to follow the norms of that group. In this model anonymity increases how
much an individual is attracted to the group they also found that an individual
will self-stereotype in order to fit in more with the group. Anonymity in this
theory shifts awareness to group identity and increases awareness of other
distinct individuals and is a far more social-identity based idea. A famous
experiment on this topic includes Postmes 2001 that states that anonymity may
actually increase social influence on individuals. In this experiment a group
of college students were split into two groups, who are then tasked to cooperate
with one another to accomplish a goal. One group was set to work together in
the group with real names and photos used for communication. The other group
had an anonymous avatars and usernames. It was found that the visually
anonymous group was actually more likely to categorize themselves in terms of
their group when they were filling out the post-experiment questionnaires.
There was also a noted increase in the participants feelings of group attraction.
Far from the typical anti-social behavior that has been discussed thus far, the
loss of self-awareness and self-identity actually caused people to become more
invested in the overall group identity and thus more cooperative and
productive. Both of these theories provide insight into the effects of group
identity and the effects of anonymity or just reduced self-identification that
arises in Computer Mediated Communication both theories require more research
to make more definitive statements about the nature of computer mediated
communication.

In conclusion, we
see the world around us changing all the time and one of the major changes of
our time is the way that we communicate and connect to one another. In my
Mother’s collage years, she would not have even been able to conceive of the
idea of a collage course that takes place entirely online. But none the less,
the transmission of knowledge from person-to-person with the use of the
computer is an effective way to communicate even if it does have its
distinctions from the conventional methods of communication. The differences in
the way a person engages with computer mediated communication and conventional
communication can be characterized by an overall lack of self-awareness or
self-consciousness. This can have both positive and negative effects the
uninhibited user might be more inclined to engage in toxic behavior, but they
can also see a lessening of social anxiety and more courage in positive
interactions. Computer aided communication is being used by more and more
people every year and we are yet to understand the full effects that this will
have on overall society.

 

Bibliography:

Festinger, L., Schachter, S., &
Back, K. (1950). Social Pressures in Informal Groups: A Study of Human Factors
in Housing. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Lea, M., & Spears, R. (1991).
Computer-mediated communication, de-individuation and group decision-making.
International Journal of Man Machine Studies, 34, 283–301.

Postmes, T., Spears, R., & Lea,
M. (1998). Breaching or building social boundaries? SIDE-effects of
computer-mediated communication. Communication research, 25(6), 689-715

Postmes, T., Spears, R., & Lea,
M. (2000). The formation of group norms in computer?mediated communication.
Human communication research, 26(3), 341-371

Shariff, S., & Churchill, A. H.
(2010). Truths and myths of cyber-bullying: International perspectives on
stakeholder responsibility and children’s safety. New York, NY: Peter Lang

Spears, R., & Lea, M. (1994).
Panacea or panopticon? The hidden power in computer-mediated communication.
Communication Research, 21(4), 427-459

Suler, J. (2004). The online
disinhibition effect. Cyberpsychology & behavior, 7(3), 321-326. Chicago
pub.

Walther, J. B. (1996).
Computer-mediated communication: Impersonal, interpersonal, and hyperpersonal
interaction. Communication Research, 23, 3-43.

Westerman, D. K., Bowman, N. D.,
& Lachlan, K. L. (2014). Introduction to computer mediated communication: A
functional approach. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company. Chapter 13

Zimbardo, P. G. (1969). The human
choice: Individuation, reason, and order versus deindividuation, impulse, and
chaos. In Nebraska symposium on motivation. University of Nebraska press.

Zywica, J., & Danowski, J.
(2008). The faces of Facebookers: Investigating social enhancement and social
compensation hypotheses; predicting Facebook and offline popularity from
sociability ¬and self-esteem, and mapping the meanings of popularity with
semantic networks. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14, 1-34.

 

 

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