Social Psychological Aspects of Computer-Mediated Communication

Sara Kiesler
Jane Siegel
Timothy McGuire


As more and more people use computers for communicating, the behavioral and societal effects of computer-mediated communication are becoming critical research topics. This article describes some of the issues raised by electronic communication, illustrates one empirical approach for investigating its social psychological effects, and discusses why social psychological research might contribute to a deeper understanding of computer-mediated communication specifically and of computers and technological change in society more generally. One objective of our research is to explore how people participate in computer-mediated communication and how computerization affects group efforts to reach consensus. In experiments, we have shown differences in participation, decisions, and interaction among groups meeting face to face and in simultaneous computer-linked discourse and communication by electronic mail. We discuss these results and the design of subsequent research to highlight the many researchable social psychological issues raised by computing and technological change.



Many of the findings of this article should be taken with a grain of salt given the different CMC contexts between 1984 and 2012. Essentially, the authors intended to bridge the gap in literature at the time concerning social psychological traits of CMC. They suggest that “computer-mediated communication differs in many ways, both technically and culturally, from more traditional communication technologies. Technically, it has the speed (including simultaneity, if desired) and energy efficiency, but not the aural or visual feedback of telephoning and face-to-face communication. It has the adaptability of written text” (p. 1125). Results indicate that CMC affected communication efficiency, participation, interpersonal behavior, and decision making. In addition to adding time through the use of the keyboard, CMC groups “took longer to reach consensus than did face-to-face groups, and they exchanged fewer remarks in the time allowed them” (p. 1128). Interpersonal participation results suggest that one person tends to dominate discussion in both face-to-face and online discussions but the effect is not as large in CMC groups. The authors suggest, however, that “lack of leadership could have caused difficulties in reaching a group decision efficiently” for “without leadership, a group might ignore social norms, standards and precedents” (p. 1130). Additionally, CMC group participants were less likely to watch their language, as the authors noted more instances of “uninhibited verbal behavior” (p. 1129). This problem, they suggest is due to an absence of “computer etiquette” (p. 1131). Again, many of the issues detailed by this piece have been addressed more thoroughly in more contemporary studies but it does offer an insight into early use of CMC in organizations.

APA Citation

Kiesler, S., Siegel, J., & McGuire, T. W. (1984). Social psychological aspects of computer mediated communication. American Psychologist, 39, 1123-1134.

About the Study

Links to Article
Mode Online
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication American Psychologist
Type of Research Quantitative
Research Design Experiments
Intervention/Areas of Study Engagement, Feedback
Level of Analysis Student-level
Specific Populations Examined Undergraduates
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest
Specific Course or Program Characteristics
Outcome Variables of Interest Instructional effectiveness
Student Sample Size 0-99
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