Cool, Revealing, or Annoying? An Experimental Investigation of Facebook Applications and Interpersonal Perceptions
 
Student researchers:

Julia Woolley, Anthony Limperos, Dan Tamul (PhD Students)
This paper is based on a project from the "Psychological Aspects of Communication Technology" graduate course.

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

For a complete report of this research, see:

Woolley, J., Limperos, A., Tamul, D. & S. Shyam Sundar(2008, August). Cool, Revealing, or Annoying?: An Experimental Investigation of Facebook Applications and Interpersonal Perceptions. Paper presented to the Communication Technology Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) at the 91st annual convention in Chicago, IL.

Introduction

This research experimentally explored the relationship between (1) application level (low, medium, high), (2) gender of the Facebook profile owner (male, female), and (3) gender pairing of profile owner (male with female, female with male) on levels of interpersonal liking, homophily, and behavioral intent. To guide the current inquiry and advance hypotheses about the probable mechanisms which influence perceptions of Facebook profiles, literature involving computer-mediated communication, impression formation, and the MAIN Model of technology heuristics was reviewed. Results indicated that application level that applications elicit both distraction and coolness heuristics which then differently effect feelings of interpersonal liking. Overall, there were a variety of results and effects involving application level, heuristic cumulation, and gender on the dependant measures.

Hypotheses & Research Question

H1: Higher levels of applications will lead to higher levels of interpersonal liking,
homophily, and behavioral intent.
H2: Higher levels of applications will lead to lower levels of interpersonal liking, homophily, and behavioral intent.
H3: Individuals who perceive the model profile as having applications similar to their own will have higher levels of interpersonal liking, homophily, and behavioral intent.
RQ1: What is the relationship between application level, model gender, participant gender, and model pairing and interpersonal liking, homophily, and behavioral intent.

Method

All participants (N = 227) were randomly assigned into one condition of a 16 cell fully-crossed between-subjects 2 (Model Gender; male, female) X 2 (Pairing; paired, alone) X 4 (application level; none, low, medium, high) factorial design. Before viewing the model profile, participants were told that they were participating in a study to aid in the development of a Facebook application which would help connect students in large lecture classes. After providing their Facebook email address and the course for which they were receiving credit (information which was immediately discarded), they were “matched” with the model profile. The model profile randomly varied in terms of model gender and whether or not the profile picture contained one or two individuals. The number of applications on the page also randomly varied between none, low, medium, and high. The primary dependent variables, interpersonal liking, attitude homophily, and behavioral intent, as well as profile coolness, distraction, and expectations of liking were then measured by an online questionnaire after participants had viewed the model profile.

Results

Application level had no main effect on interpersonal liking, but a main effect for model gender was obtained with females being liked more than males. A significant relationship was found between application homophily and interpersonal liking mediated by coolness. A similar relationship was found between expectations and interpersonal liking mediated by coolness. There was a significant main effect of application level on distraction with high and medium levels of applications leading to significantly higher distraction than low levels of applications. The distraction heuristic then has an indirect effect on liking, with application level leading to greater suspicion which partially mediates the relationship between application level and distraction, and then with distraction mediating the relationship between suspicion and systematic processing and systematic processing leading to greater liking. There was also a significant Application Level X Gender X Gender Pairing interaction on distraction with higher application levels leading to higher levels of distraction for doubled models, particularly when evaluated by male participants (See Figure 4). This interaction may be interpreted in light of the fact that in evaluating relational openness, pairing approached significance in its effect on openness, with single models being viewed as more open than paired models. Distraction and coolness heuristics show a cue-cumulation effect in their effect on interpersonal liking where distraction and coolness have an additive or “cue-cumulation” effect on interpersonal liking

Conclusions

Based on the findings of our study, it appears that enriching a Facebook profile with applications may actually trigger effects that are not always beneficial for impression formation in CMC contexts, contrary to social information professing theory. These results also suggest that the MAIN model heuristics approach to studying communication technology does have utility. Further investigation is needed to investigate the specific antecedents to the cueing of particular heuristics. Our results do show, however, that these heuristics do play a role in how people perceive others. Also, this finding supports the basic assumptions of the social information processing theory as users were still able to perceive similarity and tended to like the target profile because of perceived similarity even in absence of all the cues which would normally be available in FTF interaction. While the number of applications did yield some differences on our dependent measures, differences based on type of applications could not be discerned. Different types of applications may serve different social and personal functions, such as broadcasting, interactive or single-person gaming, gift-giving, and identity expression, to name just a few. These differences may play a role in interpersonal evaluations. Also, given the fact that application level did not directly influence evaluations of profile “coolness”, exploratory research which attempts to ascertain what aspects of Facebook profiles (or individual differences in evaluations of profiles) might lead to differing evaluations of coolness would be beneficial.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University