Computer-Mediated Communication that Brings Learning into the Present: Gender Differences in Status Differentials and Self-Disclosure in Online Peer Teaching

Computer-Mediated Communication that Brings Learning into the Present: Gender Differences in Status Differentials and Self-Disclosure in Online Peer Teaching

Linda Seward (Middle Tennessee State University, USA), Vickie Harvey (California State University, USA) and Joseph Carranza (California State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-150-8.ch002


A two-part assignment was designed which paired students together using e-mail technology that required them to engage in peer teaching. This allowed us to study computer-mediated communication that was not part of a discussion group or chat room. An analysis of the e-mails revealed that males and females did not differ in frequency, length or use of social incentives. Males sent slightly more status enhancement messages while females sent more status recognition messages. Significant gender differences occurred, however, in the use of apologies and in how personal weaknesses or bad experiences were characterized. Unexpectedly, university affiliation was more significant than gender in the amount of self-disclosure. [Article copies are available for purchase from]
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Literature Review

Many of the proponents of computer-mediated communication are endorsing it as a means of lowering social barriers that occur in face-to-face mixed sex interaction (Spears & Lea, 1994). As a channel that obscures issues such as gender, age, and physical appearance, CMC is regarded as an approach that would allow women and men the opportunity to relate equally. There is research, however, that indicates the inequalities found in face-to-face interactions may spill over into computer-mediated interactions. That is, corollaries can be found between research on male dominance in mixed sex dyads and computer mediated interactions. For example, Selfe and Meyer (1991) found that men post twice as many electronic messages as women do, while Fox et al. (2007) found that males tend to receive more messages and messages containing more words. Kramarae and Taylor (1993) found that men control topic discussion even in women-related and women-only bulletin boards. Even online membership indicated a gender difference in that many more men than women were present in on-line discussion groups (Savicki, Lingenfelter & Kelley, 1996b; Wasserman & Abbott, 2005).

There is some research that found gender differences online tended to complement traditional gender roles regarding personal discussion (Herring, 1993; Kaplan & Farrell, 1994). Karge (2001) found that women posted a greater number of messages of apology in mixed discussion groups. Fox’s (2007) study found that women are more expressive than men and that messages sent by women contained more references to emotion. Women tended to have longer communications than men in both e-mail and letters, and also used more positive intensifiers, humor, and multiple exclamations (Colley, et al., 2004). Guiller & Dumdell (2006) found that “female postings were more likely to contain attenuated language and positive socio-emotional content, whereas male postings were more likely to feature authoritative language and negative socio-emotional content” (p. 10). Females were also significantly more likely to give explicit statements of agreement while men tended to give significantly more explicit statements of disagreement (Guiller & Dumdell). A higher proportion of males also used offensive language more often than women (Colley, et al., 2004).

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