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|Title:||Exploring online self-disclosure: Synchronicity, time, trust and relationship context|
|Publisher:||University of Sydney.|
|Abstract:||This thesis explored the effect of communication mode on self-disclosure in a mental health context. It is often noted in empirical research that self-disclosure is greater in online than offline conversations (Antheunis, Valkenburg, & Peter, 2007; Christofides, Muise, & Desmarais, 2009; Coleman, Paternite, & Sherman, 1999; Joinson, 2001b; Tidwell & Walther, 2002). Although computer-mediated communication (CMC) theories differ in their explanation for how cyberspace facilitates self-disclosure, this finding of greater online self-disclosure is consistent with theoretical discussions concerning mediated communication. Empirical research, however, has also found greater self-disclosure face-to-face than in computer-mediated communication (Rimondi, 2002; Schiffrin, Edelman, Falkenstern, & Stewart, 2010; Stritzke, Nguyen, & Durkin, 2004). In some instances, no significant differences between CMC and offline interactions (Buote, Wood, & Pratt, 2009; Kiesler, Zubrow, Moses, & Geller, 1985; Mallen, Day, & Green, 2003). In addition to examining differences between online and offline communication, research is required to assess the effect of synchronicity. Online counselling research noted the necessity of research into email conversations, stating that both counsellors and clients reported a preference for email counselling (DuBois, 2004). This need to examine email interactions is echoed in the lack of research assessing self-disclosure in asynchronous modes of communication. Synchronicity and medium comparisons are based on the assumption that self-disclosure online is solely influenced by differences in communication medium. Consideration should also be made of factors known to affect self-disclosure online. One such factor is trust. Research has reported a positive correlation between trust and self-disclosure in online and offline environments (Henderson & Gilding, 2004; Metzger, 2004; Steel, 1991; Wheeless & Grotz, 1977). These studies, however, examined either face-to-face FTF interactions or CMC and therefore did not allow for comparison of the trust-disclosure relationship between online and offline communication. Another factor to consider is time. Since online counselling often spans multiple sessions, and relationships change through time, the trajectory of self-disclosure over several sessions should be examined. Further, self-disclosure is context and audience specific. Social norms governing interactions between friends are different from those of the client-professional relationship. Research into disclosure practices online have primarily been in social or problem solving contexts (Tidwell & Walther, 2002). In each scenario, participants interact as peers. The applicability of these findings to online counselling is questioned. Therefore, considering both medium-based and communication-based factors of self-disclosure, this thesis compared frequency of self-disclosure (divided into question-prompted, reciprocal and unprompted self-disclosure) in a 2 (relationship context: Social or Coaching) x 3 (medium: FTF, IM, Email) x 4 (4 weekly sessions) factorial design. The effect of trust was examined through correlations between a trust rating and frequency of self-disclosure. Sixty participants completed a demographics questionnaire and were randomly allocated to one of the six between-groups conditions. Participants were instructed to either “get-to-know” their partner (the author of this thesis) or participate in a coaching psychology program led by the author. At the conclusion of each session, participants were asked to rate their trust of the experimenter. Three-way mixed method ANOVAs showed significantly more self-disclosure in CMC than FTF interactions, more self-disclosure in Email than Instant Messaging IM and more self-disclosure in Coaching compared to Social contexts. Self-disclosure was negatively related to trust, however, when trust-disclosure correlations were examined for each condition, no correlations were significant. Frequency of self-disclosure decreased systematically over the four sessions. Interestingly, the effects of media, synchronicity, time and context were different for prompted (question-prompted and reciprocal) and unprompted self-disclosure. Consistent with previous research and CMC theories, the current study found greater frequency of self-disclosure online. This result is, in part, due to the temporal fluidity of the online environment. Without the immediate reactions of communicating partners, individuals reveal greater amounts of personal information. Consistent with this view, greater self-disclosure in email communication than IM conversations was observed in this thesis. Alternative explanations for the effect of synchronicity are posited by the Social Identity Model of Deindividuation, Reduced Cues Theory and Hyperpersonal CMC theory. Further research is required to determine the mechanism by which delays in communication can facilitate self-disclosure. Theories of relationship development propose an increase in breadth, depth and frequency of self-disclosure over time. The finding of greater spontaneous self-disclosure through time is consistent with this view. Conversely, question-prompted self-disclosure decreased with each session. It could be that, as the relationship developed, fewer questions were asked. Therefore, future research should examine question-prompted self-disclosure as a proportion of the number of questions answered. The negative correlation between trust and self-disclosure is inconsistent with previous research and CMC theories. This thesis proposes that trust and self-disclosure is mediated by level of visual anonymity. Research has shown that anonymity facilitates self-disclosure (Joinson, 1999; Tanis & Postmes, 2005b). At the same time, lack of visual information about one’s partner (and arguably that partner’s reduced accountability) is not a condition which facilitates trust. Hence, while anonymity increases self-disclosure, it will also decrease trust. Further research explicitly comparing trust and self-disclosure in anonymous and non-anonymous conditions would enhance understanding of the trust-disclosure relationship, particularly in online counselling contexts. The absence of significant correlations between trust and self-disclosure in each research condition suggests no relationship between trust and self-disclosure. An alternative explanation is a lack of statistical power. This needs to be addressed in future investigations of the trust-disclosure relationship across different communication modes. The call for context-specific research was supported by the current results. Coaching contexts yielded significantly greater frequency of self-disclosure than Social contexts. This reflects the trans-media nature of some social norms. For instance, it is expected that both individuals in a social conversation would self-disclose. In contrast, only the client is expected to disclose in Coaching conditions. These differing expectations or social norms may dictate the time available for participants to disclose and their perceived obligation to reveal personal information. From an online counselling perspective, this finding highlights the need for context-specific research. For research to be applicable, it should take into account the unique relationship between clients and professionals. This thesis examines whether frequency of self-disclosure was affected by communication medium. It explored the medium-based and communication-based factors of self-disclosure and provided insights to CMC theory, contributed to the growing body of empirical CMC research and resulted in knowledge that could be applied to online counselling practice. The findings of this thesis can be explained by multiple theories of online communication, suggesting that refinement of existing CMC theories is needed. Empirical investigations into the processes underlying online counselling are also needed. This thesis is an empirical stepping-stone toward a greater understanding of online self-disclosure and how it is manifested in therapeutic contexts.|
|Description:||Doctor of Philosophy(PhD)|
|Rights and Permissions:||The author retains copyright of this thesis.|
|Type of Work:||PhD Doctorate|
|Appears in Collections:||Sydney Digital Theses (Open Access)|
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