The Effect of Media Modality on Cross Cultural Virtual Cooperation
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.
Dr. S. Shyam Sundar
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.
H1. In cross-cultural virtual dyads, participants will perceive more
language difference between each other in audio condition than in text
H2. In cross-cultural virtual dyads, participants will perceive more
cultural difference between each other in audio condition than in text
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.
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.
Satisfaction with the task
Perceived communication difficulties
Perceived language difference
Perceived cultural difference
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
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.
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.