Friendships through IM: Examining the Relationship between Instant Messaging and Intimacy
 
Student Researchers

Yifeng Hu (PhD Student)
Jackie Fowler Wood, Vivian Smith, and Nalova Westbrook (MA Students)
This paper is based on a project from a graduate research methods course.

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

For a complete report of this research, see:

Hu, Y., Wood J. F., Smith, V., & Westbrook, N. (2004). Friendship through IM: Examining the Relationship between Instant Messaging and Intimacy. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10 (1), Article 6.

Introduction

The increasing use of Instant Messaging (IM), prompts communication scholars to assess its influences on interpersonal communication and relationships. In examining possible implications of increased popularity of IM nationwide, it seems that one segment of the population may be more affected than others – college students. Statistics show that college students actively access the Internet and utilize IM software more than the overall US population. To date, there is little research examining the relationship between the amount of IM use in college students and their social connectedness. This study explores the relationship between the amount of IM use and the level of perceived intimacy between friends. Based on Relationship Liberated perspective of Computer-Mediated-Communication (CMC), we asked the following research question:

RQ: For college students, controlling for gender and age, is there a correlation between the amount of IM use and the level of perceived intimacy between friends?

Hypothesis

One hypothesis, based on the research question and prior research, was proposed:

H1: The amount of IM use will be positively associated with the level of perceived intimacy between friends.

Perceived intimacy was split into three distinct measures, for which the following predictions were formulated:

Verbal Intimacy: IM use will lead to an increase in self-disclosure.

Affective Intimacy: IM use will lead to an increase in sentimental and longing feelings between friends.

Social Intimacy: IM use will foster more intimate feelings towards friends and a desire to self-disclose to friends.

Method

Every third college student exiting one of three central campus buildings was asked to fill out a two-page, fifteen-item questionnaire on IM. The response rate was 58.9 %. Among 138 students who participated in the survey, 89% stated that they did use IM software. Those who indicated they did not use IM to talk with friends were excluded from analysis. The survey was administered on weekends and weekdays, in the morning, midday , afternoon, and evening hours over a four-day period. Dependent variables included verbal intimacy, affective intimacy, and social intimacy.

Results

H1: Supported. Results showed IM use amount was positively associated with verbal, affective and social intimacy. As IM use amount increased, each so did verbal, social and affective intimacy, to slightly varying degrees .

In addition, results indicate that frequent conversation via IM actually encourages the desire to meet face-to-face. For example, participants who reported heavy IM use, more strongly agreed with the following statement in our questionnaire “after talking with my friends on IM, I want to see them face-to-face.”

Conclusion

In summary, results from this study lend support to our hypothesis suggesting a positive relationship between IM use amount and verbal, affective, and social intimacy. Therefore, our findings are consistent with the liberation position of CMC relationships, and suggest that IM promotes rather than hinders intimacy. Moreover, this study indicates that frequent conversation via IM actually encourages the desire to meet face-to-face. This particular finding implies that online communication can reinforce face-to-face interaction.

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