Making “Real” Connections: The Perceived Reality of Online Interactions

Making “Real” Connections: The Perceived Reality of Online Interactions

Jenna L. Clark (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA) and Melanie C. Green (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/ijicst.2013010101
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Examining the subjective aspects of online social interaction can help explain contradictory results about the consequences of such interaction. The authors posit a new theoretical construct, the perceived reality of online interactions, defined as the extent to which an individual believes online interactions are suitable for the maintenance and formation of close relationships. Higher perceived reality of online interactions is theorized to lead to more investment and effort in computer-mediated communication, thus increasing benefits such as perceived social support from online relationships. An experiment using an Amazon Mechanical Turk sample (n = 169) and undergraduate students (n = 88) found correlational evidence that perceived reality of online relationships predicted perceived social support from online sources. Additionally, patterns of correlations between perceived reality, personality traits, and general attitudes toward the Internet point at differential implications of this variable between samples.
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Online Interaction: Connected Or Disconnected?

Online social interaction has the potential to increase our connectedness to others by allowing us to reach out to those whom we might otherwise be unable to reach (McKenna & Bargh, 2000). However, it is equally possible that, despite their appealing features, these online social interactions are lacking in many of the rewards and benefits of face-to-face social interactions – leaving us more disconnected from others. Indeed, much of the early research in the field of online social interaction detailed below painted a bleak picture of lonely, isolated individuals trading fulfilling face-to-face interactions for less meaningful computer-mediated communication.

The HomeNet study (Kraut, Patterson, Lundmark, Kiesler, Mukopadhyay, & Scherlis, 1998) was among the first of its kind, examining the first two years following the introduction of Internet access to a sample of homes. Greater use of the Internet was found to lead to decreases in family communication and size of the local social network and increases in loneliness and depression. Kraut et al. advanced the time displacement hypothesis to explain these findings – time spent online simply decreased the number of hours available to spend time with family and friends in a face-to-face context. Other research (Nie, 2001; Nie & Erbring, 2000) seemed to confirm that time spent online was indeed directly taking away from time spent with close others.

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