Electronic mail, communication and social identity : a social psychological analysis of computer-mediated interactions.
The aims of the research are to study the effects of computer-mediated communication
(CMC) on individual communication processes and group interaction under realistic
conditions. This contrasts with previous research which has been conducted using
inexperienced users in artificial situations.
A study investigated communication issues in an organisation where a new electronic
mail (e-mail) system had been implemented. Data regarding usage patterns and
subjective evaluations of e-mail showed that usability of the system was not critical, but
communication and social interaction were important issues not considered during
implementation. In particular, the linking of groups within the organisation had been
The second and third studies investigated the way that e-mail impacts on group
interaction. Research on the effects of CMC on group processes has produced a number
of contradictory findings and it has been proposed that differences in the e-mail context
may be responsible for these findings. Based on social identity theory and the concept
of de-individuation, it was hypothesised that the identifiability of users and the strength
of group identity would be important factors. It was predicted that there would be less
adherence to group norms in individuated groups, in terms of: more uninhibited
communication (flaming), less group cohesion and less group polarisation. Study 2
compared subjects before and after discussion, whereas study 3 focused on the dynamic
nature of communication and experience, using repeated assessment.
The provision of extra identifying information was associated with increases in
communication activity, self-disclosure and flaming, while limiting the amount of
identifying information resulted in more balanced participation. Personal identifiability
did not significantly affect the way users perceived themselves, but did affect the way
they perceived other group members: there was more perceived group cohesion in
groups which received extra identifying information. There was no significant support
for the group polarisation phenomenon. There were very few significant effects. of
The research findings are discussed in relation to social psychological theory, previous
CMC research and theories of group development. Methodological issues and the
practical implications of varying levels of identifiability are also considered.
Recommendations are made for future research. One particular issue that needs
addressing concerns whether 'flaming' is properly conceptualised as normative or antinormative