Mediated matchmaking is certainly not a new phenomenon: Although scholars working in a variety of academic disciplines have studied these earlier forms of mediated matchmaking e. Contemporary theoretical perspectives allow us to advance our understanding of how the age-old process of mate-finding is transformed through online strategies and behaviors. For instance, Social Information Processing SIP theory and other frameworks help illuminate computer-mediated communication CMC , interpersonal communication, and impression management processes.
This article focuses on the ways in which CMC interactants manage their online self-presentation and contributes to our knowledge of these processes by examining these issues in the naturalistic context of online dating, using qualitative data gathered from in-depth interviews with online dating participants.
In contrast to a technologically deterministic perspective that focuses on the characteristics of the technologies themselves, or a socially deterministic approach that privileges user behavior, this article reflects a social shaping perspective.
Capacities are those aspects of technology that enhance our ability to connect with one another, enact change, and so forth; constraints are those aspects of technology that hinder our ability to achieve these goals. Although the notion of circumvention is certainly not new to CMC researchers, this article seeks to highlight the importance of circumvention practices when studying the social aspects of technology use.
These impression-management behaviors consist of expressions given communication in the traditional sense, e.
Therefore, if participants aspire to an intimate relationship, their desire to feel understood by their interaction partners will motivate self-disclosures that are open and honest as opposed to deceptive. This tension between authenticity and impression management is inherent in many aspects of self-disclosure. Interactants in online environments experience these same pressures and desires, but the greater control over self-presentational behavior in CMC allows individuals to manage their online interactions more strategically.
Due to the asynchronous nature of CMC, and the fact that CMC emphasizes verbal and linguistic cues over less controllable nonverbal communication cues, online self-presentation is more malleable and subject to self-censorship than face-to-face self-presentation Walther, A commonly accepted understanding of identity presumes that there are multiple aspects of the self which are expressed or made salient in different contexts.
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Higgins argues there are three domains of the self: The relative anonymity of online interactions and the lack of a shared social network online may allow individuals to reveal potentially negative aspects of the self online Bargh et al. The online dating realm differs from other CMC environments in crucial ways that may affect self-presentational strategies. An empirical study of online dating participants found that those who anticipated greater face-to-face interaction did feel that they were more open in their disclosures, and did not suppress negative aspects of the self Gibbs et al.
In addition, because the goal of many online dating participants is an intimate relationship, these individuals may be more motivated to engage in authentic self-disclosures. The majority of online dating participants claim they are truthful Gibbs et al. For instance, anticipation of face-to-face communication influences self-representation choices Walther, and self-disclosures because individuals will more closely monitor their disclosures as the perceived probability of future face-to-face interaction increases Berger, and will engage in more intentional or deliberate self-disclosure Gibbs et al.
Additionally, Hancock, Thom-Santelli, and Ritchie note that the design features of a medium may affect lying behaviors, and that the use of recorded media in which messages are archived in some fashion, such as an online dating profile will discourage lying. Also, online dating participants are typically seeking a romantic partner, which may lower their motivation for misrepresentation compared to other online relationships. Further, Cornwell and Lundgren found that individuals involved in online romantic relationships were more likely to engage in misrepresentation than those involved in face-to-face romantic relationships, but that this was directly related to the level of involvement.
That is, respondents were less involved in their cyberspace relationships and therefore more likely to engage in misrepresentation. This lack of involvement is less likely in relationships started in an online dating forum, especially sites that promote marriage as a goal. Additionally, empirical data about the true extent of misrepresentation in this context is lacking.
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The current literature relies on self-reported data, and therefore offers only limited insight into the extent to which misrepresentation may be occurring. The potential for misrepresentation online, combined with the time and effort invested in face-to-face dates, make assessment strategies critical for online daters. In short, online users become cognitive misers, forming impressions of others while conserving mental energy Wallace, For instance, individuals might use search engines to locate newsgroup postings by the person under scrutiny, knowing that this searching is covert and that the newsgroup postings most likely were authored without the realization that they would be archived Ramirez et al.
How do online dating participants manage their online presentation of self in order to accomplish the goal of finding a romantic partner? In order to gain insight into this question, we interviewed online dating participants about their experiences, thoughts, and behaviors. The survey findings are reported in Gibbs et al.
Our study addresses contemporary CMC theory using naturalistic observations. In their profiles, participants may include one or more photographs and a written open-ended description of themselves and their desired mate. They also answer a battery of closed-ended questions, with preset category-based answers, about descriptors such as income, body type, religion, marital status, and alcohol usage. Users can conduct database searches that generate a list of profiles that match their desired parameters usually gender, sexual orientation, age, and location.
Initial communication occurs through a double-blind email system, in which both email addresses are masked, and participants usually move from this medium to others as the relationship progresses. We took an inductive approach based on general research questions informed by literature on online self-presentation and relationship formation rather than preset hypotheses. Interviews were semistructured to ensure that all participants were asked certain questions and to encourage participants to raise other issues they felt were relevant to the research.
The protocol included questions such as: Are you trying to convey a certain impression of yourself with your profile? If you showed your profile to one of your close friends, what do you think their response would be? Are there any personal characteristics that you avoided mentioning or tried to deemphasize? In theoretical sampling, cases are chosen based on theoretical developed a priori categories to provide examples of polar types, rather than for statistical generalizability to a larger population Eisenhardt, The Director of Market Research at Connect.
Those members who did not respond within a week received a reminder email. Of those contacted, 76 people volunteered to participate in an interview. Out of these 76 volunteers, we selected and scheduled interviews with 36 although two were unable to participate due to scheduling issues. We chose interview participants to ensure a good mix on each of our theoretical categories: We focused exclusively on those seeking relationships with the opposite sex, as this group constitutes the majority of Connect.
We also confirmed that they were active participants in the site by ensuring that their last login date was within the past week and checking that each had a profile.
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Their online dating experience varied from 1 month to 5 years. Although our goal was to sample a mix of participants who varied on key demographic criteria rather than generalizing to a larger population, our sample is in fact reflective of the demographic characteristics of the larger population of Connect. Thirty-four interviews were conducted in June and July Interviews were conducted by telephone, averaging 45 minutes and ranging from 30 to 90 minutes in length.
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The interview database consisted of pages, including , words, with an average of words per interview. All of the phone interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and checked for accuracy by the researcher who conducted the interview. The data analysis process consisted of systematic line-by-line coding of each transcript by the first two authors.
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Coding consisted of both factual codes e. New codes were added throughout the process, and then earlier transcripts were recoded to include these new conceptual categories. All of the data were coded twice to ensure thoroughness and accuracy of codes. The researchers had frequent discussions in which they compared and refined coding categories and schemes to ensure consistency.
During the coding process, some codes were collapsed or removed when they appeared to be conceptually identical, while others were broken out into separate codes when further nuances among them became apparent. A total of 98 codes were generated by the first two authors as they coded the interviews. Unitization was flexible in order to capture complete thought units. Codes were allowed to overlap Krippendorff, ; this method of assigning multiple codes to the same thought unit facilitated the process of identifying relationships between codes.
See Appendixes A and B for more information on codes. These interview data offer insight into the self-presentation strategies utilized by participants in order to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of online dating. These strategies are intimately connected to the specific characteristics of the online dating context: As suggested by SIP Walther, , subtle cues such as misspellings in the online environment are important clues to identity for CMC interactants.
Many of the individuals we interviewed explicitly considered how others might interpret their profiles and carefully assessed the signals each small action or comment might send:. I really analyzed the way I was going to present myself. The reason I put [the language] in there is because I had some experiences where I got together [with someone], we both really liked each other, and then it turned out that I was somebody who really liked sex and she was somebody that could take it or leave it.
So I put that in there to sort of weed those people out.
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Participants spoke of the ways in which they incorporated feedback from others in order to shape their self-presentational messages. In some cases, they seemed genuinely surprised by the ways in which the digital medium allowed information to leak out. In the course of [corresponding with others on the site] I became aware of how I had to present myself.
Also, I became quite aware that I had to be very brief. The site displayed the last time a user was active on the site, and this small cue was interpreted as a reliable indicator of availability. Overall, the mediated nature of these initial interactions meant that fewer cues were available, therefore amplifying the importance of those that remained. In a self-reflexive fashion, they applied these techniques to their own presentational messages, carefully scrutinizing both cues given such as photograph and, when possible, those perceived to be given off such as grammar.
Almost all of our participants reported that they attempted to represent themselves accurately in their profiles and interactions. Many expressed incomprehension as to why others with a shared goal of an offline romantic relationship would intentionally misrepresent themselves. At times, their need to portray a truthful, accurate self-representation was in tension with their natural inclination to project a version of self that was attractive, successful, and desirable.
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