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On an everyday basis, we communicate with one another using various technological media, such as text messaging, social networking tools, and electronic mail, in work, educational, and personal settings. As a consequence of the increasing frequency of use and importance of computer-supported interaction, social scientists in particular have heeded the call to understand the social processes involved in such interactions. In this volume, the editors explore how aspects of a situation interact with characteristics of a person to help explain our technologically supported social interactions. The person-by-situation interaction perspective recognizes the powerful role of the situation and social forces on behavior, thought, and emotion, but also acknowledges the importance of person variables in explaining social interaction, including power and gender, social influence, truth and deception, ostracism, and leadership. This important study is of great relevance to modern readers, who are more and more frequently using technology to communicate with one another.
When the lights go out in a kid's room, a familiar place can become many places – a strange land inhabited by frightening creatures or a playground of warm and fuzzy animals as playmates. The loss of visual cues permits the experience of a place to hinge on subtle cues – unfamiliar noises or the lingering fantasies of a bedtime story. The experience of social interaction is often shaped by place. When the sense of place is not well defined by a physical context, we, like the kid when the lights go out, can experience any one of many places, and our behaviors and the interpretations of others’ actions change depending on the place we construct. One of the emerging themes in this volume is that place is not well defined in computer-mediated interactions. In fact, the physical place is often irrelevant. The meaning of an e-mail exchange does not depend on whether the communicators are in their offices or at the local coffee shop when they send and receive the messages. Whether the exchange is viewed as a business negotiation or idle chit-chat depends less on where the communicators are located than on other cues, often subtle, associated with the interaction. Hence, physical place is often irrelevant to the definition of situation in the person x situation frame.
Another theme that threads its way through the chapters in this book is that the identity of the person is malleable. Actors’ identities are often partly or completely masked by the medium. Moreover, what one reveals about one's self is controllable and the opportunity for portraying a fraudulent self is great. I can become whomever my desires, imaginations, and ambitions dictate. Thus, anonymity has been and continues to be a variable of interest in the study of computer-mediated interaction. The emphasis in much of the early work was on the dark side of anonymous interactions – the bad things that happen when one escapes the constraints of norms and accountability. However, a sampling of the chapters in this volume reveals that the dark side is only part of the picture. For example, the social identity model of deindividuation effects (SIDE model; Spears et al., this volume) provides a much more nuanced and dynamic view of what can happen when actors’ identities are hidden or filtered by electronic media. Spears and his colleagues show how anonymity can lead to more or less normatively scripted behavior depending on the other cues in the context.
The use of computer-supported social interaction (CSI) has become a primary feature of communication among individuals, due in part to its structural features (e.g., freedom of time and geographical constraints) and psychological features (e.g., anonymity). As a consequence, many social scientists have investigated the social processes in computer-supported interactions, including online impression formation, relationship development, and group dynamics. Because individuals communicate via the use of computers in many personal, educational, and professional settings, it is important to continue and encourage the study of social processes in such environments. These studies have identified a number of influences on the behaviors (i.e., conformity, economic choices, etc.), thoughts (i.e., attitude change, impression formation, etc.), and, to a lesser degree, physiological/emotional states of people involved in computer-supported interaction.
The goal of this volume is to impose the global theoretical framework of the person-by-situation interaction (Snyder and Ickes, 1985) onto the study of computer-supported social interaction. This perspective recognizes that people are affected by the expectations and limitations of social situations, but to varying degrees. The extent that a person will respond or react to social forces has been found to depend on the levels of internal characteristics (e.g., self-esteem) that a person brings with them to the social situation. For example, social psychologists have observed that those individuals who express higher levels of self-esteem are more resistant to social pressure and as a result are less likely to conform to the influence of others (Baumeister, 1982), and are more likely to persist in the face of obstacles to their goals (Gist and Mitchell, 1992). Originally posited by Lewin (1935), reinvigorated by Mischel (1968), and then tested and validated in decades of social psychological research across a broad range of social phenomena, the explanatory rubric of social psychology can now be applied to the communication forums that have emerged in the relatively brief existence of internet technologies. Before discussing the details and benefits of the person-by-situation interaction perspective, we will review the existing theoretical frameworks that have been applied to computer-supported interactions.
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