The Effect of Media Modality on Cross Cultural Virtual Cooperation
 
Student researchers

Deanna Behring, Robert J. Chesnick & Qian Xu (PhD Students; names listed in alphabetical order)
This paper is based on a project from the "Psychological Aspects of Communication Technology" graduate course.

For a complete report of this research, see:

Qian Xu, Deanna Behring & Robert J. Chesnick (2008, May). The effect of media modality on cross-cultural virtual cooperation. Paper to be presented to the Communication and Technology Division of the International Communication Association (ICA) at the 58th conference in Montreal, Canada.

Faculty Supervisor:

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

Introduction

In today’s global society, teams working together across cultural and national boundaries are vital to the work process. An increasing number of multinational companies depend on group work to think strategically, create new products, make decisions, and respond to crises. These are often temporary teams consisting of individuals from around the globe and from distinct technical competencies (Early & Peterson, 2004). Currently, 75% of entry-level workers in the United States are minorities and/or women (Boyett & Conn, 1992). Looking forward, it is projected that demographic changes will continue to affect organizations. By the year 2020, the majority of new entrants into organizations in the United States will be of Latin, Asian, or African descent (Judy & D’Amico, 1997). Please see Figure1 for the model of the study.

Hypotheses

H1. In cross-cultural virtual dyads, participants will perceive more language difference between each other in audio condition than in text condition.

H2. In cross-cultural virtual dyads, participants will perceive more cultural difference between each other in audio condition than in text condition.

H3. In cross-cultural virtual dyads, participants will perceive more communication difficulties in text condition than in audio condition.

H4a. In cross-cultural virtual dyads, the relationship between modality and task performance is mediated by perceived language difference.

H4b. In cross-cultural virtual dyads, the relationship between modality and task performance is mediated by perceived cultural difference.

H4c. In cross-cultural virtual dyads, the relationship between modality and task performance is mediated by perceived communication difficulties.

H5a. In cross-cultural virtual dyads, the relationship between modality and team satisfaction is mediated by perceived language difference.

H5b. In cross-cultural virtual dyads, the relationship between modality and team satisfaction is mediated by perceived cultural difference.

H5c. In cross-cultural virtual dyads, the relationship between modality and team satisfaction is mediated by perceived communication difficulties.

Method

Twenty six participants (N=26) were recruited from a northeastern university. Participants were paired into 13 dyads. Each dyad was composed of one China-born Chinese university student and one American-born American university student. Each dyad was asked to negotiate on two decision-making tasks through Google Talk. One task was audio-based and the other text-based. After they finished the first task (either via audio condition or text condition), participants completed an online questionnaire. Then they were instructed to finish the second task via a different modality condition. Following the second task, participants completed a paper-based questionnaire.

Dependent Measures:
Task performance
Satisfaction with the task
Mediating Measures:
Perceived communication difficulties
Perceived language difference
Perceived cultural difference

Results

1. Hypothesis 1 was supported. Participants perceived significantly more language difference compared with their partner in the audio condition than in the text condition (F=4.64, p <.05; M(audio)= 6.07 , SE(audio)=.41 ; M(text)= 4.73, SD(text)= .47). Hypothesis 5a was supported. Perceived language difference fully mediated the correlation between modality and satisfaction.

2. Hypothesis 2 was partially supported. A significant effect of modality on perceived trustworthiness (F=3.18, p <.10) was found, but no effect on three factors of perceived cultural difference. Hypothesis 5b was only supported for perceived trustworthiness.

3. Hypothesis 3 was supported. There was significant difference for perceived communication difficulties in the audio vs. the text condition (F=11.39, p <.01). Hypothesis 5c was supported. Perceived communication difficulties fully mediated the correlation between modality and overall satisfaction and between modality and satisfaction with results.

4. Hypothesis 4a, 4b, and 4c were not supported. There were no significant difference between modality and task performance, let alone the impact of mediating variables.

Conclusions

While media richness theory would have predicted that audio communication would lead to higher perceived language deficiency, greater communication difficulty, and less satisfaction, the findings from this study suggest that language deficiency may not be a contributor to communication difficulty. Perceived language deficiency may actually contribute to greater satisfaction with the outcomes in multicultural teams. One explanation for this outcome is that the participants in the study may have adopted new communication strategies to address the language shortcomings, leading to greater appreciation, greater feelings of mutual support, and a greater sense of accomplishment.

The findings also suggest that organizations looking to develop multicultural teams should consider the importance of trust building.

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