IT’S NOT WHAT YOU SAY; IT’S HOW YOU SAY IT: EFFECTS OF EMOTIONAL TEXT AND AGE ON PERCEPTIONS OF PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER TRAITS

STUDENT RESEARCHERS:

Lee Erickson, Lu Zhang, Heidi Webb (Graduate Students)

This paper is based on a project from the "Psychological Aspects of Communication Technology" graduate course.

FACULTY SUPERVISOR:

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

INTRODUCTION

While CMC may not allow us to hone in on a facial expression or hand gesture, there are subtle cues to personality embedded within our text communications. This study examined the effects of “emotional text” (defined as use of emoticons, capitalization, exclamation points, and “lol”) on perceptions of sender’s personality. Specifically, how does the use of subtle emotional clues in CMC impact the perceptions of us in the minds of others? And, are these cues interpreted differently based on the age of the sender?

RESEARCH QUESTION / HYPOTHESES:

When using asynchronous chat for socialization:

H1: Individuals will rate others who use emotional text more positively on personality and character traits than individuals who do not use emotional text.

H2: Individuals will rate in-group individuals more positively on personality and character traits than out-group individuals.

H2a: Individuals will rate in-group individuals who use emotional text more positively on personality and character traits than in-group individuals who do not use emotional text.

H2b: Individuals will rate out-group individuals who use emotional text more negatively on personality and character traits than out-group individuals who do not use emotional text.

H3a: Individuals who perceive chat to be high for social presence will rate in-group individuals who use emotional text more positively on personality and character traits than in-group individuals who do not use emotional text.

H3b: Individuals who perceive chat to be high for social presence will rate out-group individuals who use emotional text more negatively on personality and character traits than out-group individuals who do not use emotional text.

H3c: Individuals who perceive chat to be low for social presence will rate in-group and out-group individuals who use emotional text similarly on personality and character trait.

H4a: Individuals who perceive emoticon use as not age appropriate for older adults will rate older adults that use emoticons more negatively on personality and character traits than those who do not.

H4b: Individuals who perceive emoticon use as age appropriate for younger adults will rate younger adults that use emoticons more positively on personality and character traits than those who do not use emoticons.

H4c: Individuals who have more contact with seniors will rate seniors more positively on personality and character traits than those who have limited contact.

RQ1: Do perceptions of personality and character traits of individual’s who use emoticons vary by gender?

METHOD

A 2 (age: 20/60) X 2 (emotional text/non-emotional text) factorial study was conducted to examine the impact of age and emotional text on impression formation. Participants were told they would be communicating with another person via chat and would ask them a list of pre-defined questions. Based on condition, participants were told they would be chatting with a 20 year old or a 60 year old. For conditions that included emotional text, scripted answers from confederates include emoticons, all caps, exclamation points, and lol. The same answers were provided by confederates for non-emotional text conditions however, no emotional text was included. After chat sessions were complete participants answered an online survey asking them to rate individuals on personality and character traits.

RESULTS

The results showed main effects from emotional text and age on socialibility factor, which supports H1 and does not support H2. Although all interaction effects were not significant, we found participants perceived younger adults who used emotional text to be more social and less conventional compared to those who did not. In addition, social presence, age appropriateness, and gender established significant moderating effect. The most interesting finding is the three way interaction between emotional text, age, and social presence. It indicates participants who perceive chat to be high for social presence did rate in-group individuals who use emotional text more reliable, and they rated out-group individuals who use emotional text less reliable.

Figure 1. Under age 20 condition, the interaction effect of emotional text and social presence on reliability.

 

Figure 2. Under age 60 condition, interaction effect of emotional text and social presence on reliability.

 

DISCUSSION/ CONCLUSION

Results demonstrated that emotional text does have an impact on our perceptions of others and generally in a positive direction. Additionally, while more researcher is needed, findings from this study suggest that specific CMCs may play a role in removing or lessening negative age-related stereotypes commonly held by young adults.  Because this study examined only one time interactions, this “technology effect” may indeed be a strong cue altering our impressions even before we engage in conversation.

 

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