Using Theoretical Frameworks from the Social Sciences to Understand and Explain Behaviour in Social Computing

Using Theoretical Frameworks from the Social Sciences to Understand and Explain Behaviour in Social Computing

Jacqui Taylor (Bournemouth University, UK)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-904-6.ch003
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Research over the past 15 years has examined how the Internet is being used to support communication and social interaction across a variety of groups and communities. However, much of this research has been exploratory, rather than explanatory. It is argued here that approaches from the social sciences offer established methods and frameworks within which the psychological and social impacts of computing can be addressed. In discussing various theories, the chapter highlights one problem—that individual theories have tended to be used to explain a single aspect of human behaviour. There is a need to think more holistically and search for a theoretical approach that can explain intrapersonal processes (e.g. cognition and emotion) as well as interpersonal behaviour within social computing. A number of theoretical frameworks from the social sciences (e.g. social identity theory and social capital theory) will be discussed as potentially being able to explain psychological processes at all levels for users of social computing applications. In summary, the objectives of this chapter are to discuss current approaches used to explain the way people interact in social computing contexts, identify shortcomings with these and to highlight approaches that can address these shortcomings.
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Social Computing And Social Science

1.1 Introduction

Social computing covers the area where social behaviour and computer science intersect and this chapter will consider the support for all types of social behavior through computing systems across all facets of society. The focus will be on the potential of social science to explain the psychological impacts of this computing support. For example: an academic online community can support students in the development of critical thinking skills; online support groups can provide empathy and advice for the elderly or ill patients, and online gaming communities can support the social needs of adolescents. The application of theoretical frameworks from the social sciences will be evaluated by drawing on research conducted across a variety of social computing environments (e.g. entertainment, commerce, education and health) and with a variety of users (e.g. adolescents, learners, employees, the elderly, and people with illnesses).

Human beings are social beings who learn, play and work in social contexts; as a result people are extremely sensitive to the behaviour of those around them, and their behaviour is ultimately shaped by their social context. For example, during a learning context a tutor will adapt their teaching style dependent on the students’ verbal and non-verbal cues and in an urban context a market seller will adapt prices depending on demand and customer behaviour. People not only adapt their own behaviour but in groups they conform to other’s social behaviour, e.g. people will be drawn to a crowd gathering around a street artist or people will look up to a high building if some of those around them are doing so. In the discipline of Psychology this process is known as social influence and it is a two-way process, with an individual able to influence those around them and those around them are able to influence the behaviour of the individual (Baron, Branscombe and Byrne, 2009). In summary, social information provides a basis for making perceptions or attributions about other people and helps us to decide how to think, feel and behave. An understanding of social influence can be used at many levels, for example for crowd control, to direct a learning experience or to influence shopping habits. In the same way that face-to-face interaction is predictable, in many ways online social behaviour is also predictable. In online systems social information can be provided directly; for example, the number of users who have rated a product / service as helpful or products recommended based on people with a similar purchasing history. Alternatively, social information may be available indirectly, for example the influence of other’s opinions through online group discussion. In both direct and indirect ways, social information that is produced by a group changes individuals’ perceptions and behaviour and ultimately the functioning of the group. Jarron, Favier and Li (2006) recognise the significance of social influence when they discuss the sources of influence for users of social computing in a commerce context. For example, they discuss the increasing importance that people attach to cues from one another, rather than from institutional sources like corporations, media outlets, religions and political parties. They conclude with advice for companies wanting to thrive using social computing, to weave online communities into their services and products and to use employees and partnerships as significant marketers.

Social computing applications support one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many interactions and therefore explanations need to cover individual, group and community processes. It is argued here that social science approaches have a great deal to offer in understanding interactions at each of these levels. At the individual level, social science can explain the impact of personality and individual differences on the use of social computing and the impacts of social computing on self-perception and emotion. At the group level, social science can help to understand group decision making and group cohesion. Increasingly, social computing supports the interactions that are carried out by very large groups of people, or communities (e.g. online auctions and Massive Multiuser Online Role Play Games - MMORPGs). In these contexts, social information processing and social network analysis approaches can be used to track and predict interactions and behaviour (often for commercial use such as market research). Although there are a number of approaches focusing on each level, there is less research exploring how social computing is affecting people at all psychological levels together.

A wide-ranging variety of theories from the disciplines of computing and information systems have been used to explain the impacts of the internet. Many of the early computing approaches were developed to address a specific problem or area of computing use. For example, the ‘technology acceptance model’ (Chau, 1996) explains the take-up and initial use of systems and the ‘task-technology fit theory’ (Goodhue, 1998) proposes that if system capabilities match the tasks that users perform, then impacts will be positive and performance enhanced. However, despite the initial usefulness in predicting usability, take-up and performance, many of these approaches were ill-suited to explaining the increasingly interpersonal and intrapersonal nature of online interaction. Therefore, over the last 10 to 15 years, approaches have increasingly drawn on social science concepts which integrate the social and technical. These integrated approaches to understand social computing will now be reviewed in section 1.2, followed by a review of approaches from the social sciences in section 2 which will highlight those theoretical frameworks that can potentially further our understanding of behaviour at all levels (individual, group and community) in social computing.

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Table of Contents
Panagiotis Georgiadis
Panagiota Papadopoulou, Panagiotis Kanellis, Drakoulis Martakos
Chapter 1
Benjamin Yeo
Stemming from the information economy, the knowledge economy represents an extension of technology-based production to include the leverage of... Sample PDF
From Information Technology to Social Technology: Opportunities and Challenges in the Knowledge Economy
Chapter 2
Aaron X. L. Shen, Matthew K.O. Lee, Christy M. K. Cheung
Today, the growth and popularity of social computing greatly facilitate online collaboration in creating user-centered networked content. This... Sample PDF
Harness the Wisdom of Crowds: The Importance of We-Intention in Social Computing Research
Chapter 3
Jacqui Taylor
Research over the past 15 years has examined how the Internet is being used to support communication and social interaction across a variety of... Sample PDF
Using Theoretical Frameworks from the Social Sciences to Understand and Explain Behaviour in Social Computing
Chapter 4
Thomas Mandl
Social software provides powerful tools for people to communicate and interact. Social software networks are popular around the world but there are... Sample PDF
Cultural and International Aspects of Social Media
Chapter 5
Gbolahan K. Williams, Iman Poernomo
Information Management’ has seen a tremendous transformation over the years from various forms of traditional analogue/digital techniques for... Sample PDF
Social Contexts in an Information Rich Environment
Chapter 6
Chaka Chaka
This chapter investigates instances of social computing and the affordances it offers enterprise social networking. Employing a thematic synthesis... Sample PDF
Social Computing: Harnessing Enterprise Social Networking and the Relationship Economy
Chapter 7
Jean Éric Pelet
In the perspective of managing the Intellectual Capital (IC), the user friendliness of User Generated Content (UGC) tools may be preferred over the... Sample PDF
Using Web 2.0 Social Computing Technologies to Enhance the Use of Information Systems in Organizations
Chapter 8
J. Alfredo Sánchez, Omar Valdiviezo
This chapter posits that social computing applications, when appropriately combined, provide opportunities to facilitate organizational... Sample PDF
Enhancing Productivity through Social Computing
Chapter 9
Ioan Toma, James Caverlee, Ying Ding, Elin K. Jacob, Erjia Yan, Staša Milojevic
This chapter discusses the relation between Social Networks and Semantics – two areas that have recently gained a lot of attention from both... Sample PDF
Social Networks and Semantics
Chapter 10
Christopher Douce
The process of developing interactive systems necessitates designers to have a comprehensive understanding of the needs of the user and the context... Sample PDF
Constructing and Evaluating Social Software: Lessons from Interaction Design
Chapter 11
Danilo Avola, Andrea Del Buono, Angelo Spognardi
In recent years, the growing improvements of the computational capability of the mobile and desktop devices, jointly to the potentialities of the... Sample PDF
Advanced Multimodal Frameworks to Support Human-Computer Interaction on Social Computing Environments
Chapter 12
Harilaos G. Koumaras, Jose Oscar Fajardo, Fidel Liberal, Lingfen Sun, Vaios Koumaras, Costas Troulos, Anastasios Kourtis
This chapter proposes a Content-aware and Network-aware Management System (CNMS) over a converged user-environment of social networking and mobile... Sample PDF
A Social Relational Network-Based Architecture for Maintaining the Media Integrity and Optimizing the Quality of Experience: A Technical and Business Perspective
Chapter 13
Jason G. Caudill
Social computing has revolutionized the way individuals connect with one another and manage their personal lives. The technology has launched... Sample PDF
Social Computing and the New Market: How Social Computing is Driving Market Competition
Chapter 14
Andreas M. Kaplan, Michael Haenlein
Researchers and practitioners alike have speculated that virtual social worlds and social gaming will likely be major platforms for business... Sample PDF
From Real to Virtual and Back Again: The Use and Potential of Virtual Social Worlds within the IT Industry
Chapter 15
Ranadeva Jayasekera, Thanos Papadopoulos
This chapter focuses on the role of social networking sites in viral marketing through a case study in a university environment. Over the last... Sample PDF
Viral Marketing via Social Networking Sites: Perceptions of Students in a University Environment
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