Archive for February, 2010

Ideas White Paper *Draft-in-Progress*


The Ingroup is interested in exploring the effects of different conversational environments on subconscious forms of intergroup bias.  Specifically, we would like to study whether markers of bias are more pronounced when members of different groups engage in face-to-face conversation or when they interact in a computer-mediated setting.

Our prediction is that participants in face-to-face conversation will show less evidence of bias for several reasons. First, face-to-face conversation requires both parties to attend to more facets of maintaining the “face” of themselves and their partner, and this work will attune them to perceive the other person as an individual, not necessarily as just an example of a group. Also, face-to-face interaction provides a great deal more contextualizing information (facial expressions, body language, and so forth) that can assist in creating a personal connection that transcends simple social categorization. However, we acknowledge that the amount of contextual information available in computer-mediated forms of communication varies widely.

To study this question, we intend to identify polarizing issues of importance to Cornell students and then recruit students who feel strongly about those topics to participate in an experiment.  In the experiment, the participants will be given a limited period of time to interact with a person who belongs to an opposing group, and they will be asked to identify a creative way that they could compromise on the issue at hand. Afterward, participants will be asked to fill out a survey where they will rate their own communication and the communication of the other party.

We intend to measure two types of markers of intergroup bias, both of which have been established in the social scientific literature, infra-humanization and linguistic bias. Infra-humanization is a subtle form of bias where ingroup members subconsciously perceive the outgroup as less than fully human. To measure this, we will ask each participant to write down the emotions they felt and that they expressed in the conversation, and also to write down the emotions they felt the other person experienced and expressed. If ingroup members list a greater number of complex secondary emotions, such as guilt or indignation, for themselves and more animalistic primary emotions, such as anger, for the outgroup, it would be an indication of active infra-humanization. Another option would be to ask participants how typical they felt their conversation partner was of the outgroup as a whole.

Second, we will record the conversations of our participants using digital devices for face-to-face and chat logs for CMC in order to search for evidence of linguistic bias based on Semin and Fiedler’s Linguistic Category Model.  Under this model, we would expect references to the outgroup to follow a specific pattern where more abstract terms are used to describe negative qualities (e.g., Pro-choicers are evil) and concrete terms to describe positive qualities (e.g., that pro-choicer picked up that woman who fell down). The opposite would hold for the ingroup (i.e. Pro-lifers are righteous/that pro-lifer kicked the woman who fell down).

There are numerous questions we will need to settle to go forward with this study. What type of computer-mediated communication is best suited to this type of study? What ingroup-outgroup divisions will be most salient to the  people in our likely participant pool?  What resources will we need to carry off the study? Should we use more than one type of CMC? How can we be sure that any difference between CMC and face-to-face conversation isn’t merely the result of an anonymity effect?  If it is the result of an anonymity effect, is that a problem for our theory or a component of it? Finally, from a communication point of view, what theory are we going to ground our predictions in?

Research Question

How do two unsuspecting people initiate a conversation? When Susie encounters her best friend Miranda at the Cornell Dairy Bar, they do not strike up a conversation at the same exact moment. However, Susie may open up a dialogue with a simple “Hello. How are you?” Miranda obliges and proceeds to describe her day to Susie. By now this rote process, known as entry, has become ingrained in all of us, but according to Clark (1996) this is how all conversations begin (p. 331). Similarly, the exit process is an equally complex procedure in which each party must mutually agree to conclude the conversation (p. 334). Failure to effectively close a conversation may result in feelings of uneasiness on the part of one or both of the speakers.

Another important feature to consider during the entry and exit processes is the particular medium in which the participants are engaging in conversation. A face-to-face exit entails different actions and expressions than perhaps a conversation over the telephone. Susie and Miranda may conclude the conversation by parting ways and heading in separate directions while a simple “goodbye” is a sufficient exit over the telephone. Our group would like to explore the differences between the entry and exit patterns associated with face-to-face communication and instant messaging. The experiment would track the instances in which entry and exit sequences appeared in face-to-face conversations compared to online conversations. Our hypothesis is that the entry and exit pattern would be more prevalent in face-to-face communication as opposed to instant messaging. Therefore, how does the entry and exit pattern vary between face-to-face communication and instant message communication?

This project fulfills all four of Herring’s (2004) qualities of a good Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis (CMDA). Herring stipulates that a research question must be “empirically answerable from the available data” (p. 7). This is an integral part of the question as it eliminates any subjectivity. Therefore, we must discern what constitutes a proper entry and exit prior to conducting the experiments. In addition to examining instant messaging conversations, we would also examine face-to-face conversations under identical circumstances in which the participants share the same joint purpose as the instant message participants. From this comparison, we are able to draw significant conclusions.

This research question also meets Herring’s second criterion that the findings be “non-trivial” (p. 8). If our suspicions are confirmed and there is a lower occurrence of entry and exit displayed in instant messaging, what does this trend say about the innovation of new technology? Is face-to-face communication the most conducive environment for proper entries and exits? As we expand to other forms of communication, such as telephone conversations and emails, do entry and exit patterns become less noticeable? Herring also posits the research question be “motivated by a hypothesis” (p. 8). In this regard, our group believes the number of entries and exits will be more prevalent in face-to-face conversations in comparison to instant message communication. According to Herring, having an “informal hunch” increases interest in the project and makes the results easier to interpret (p. 8). Undeniably, the environment plays a pivotal role in shaping our hypothesis. Unlike in a face-to-face conversation, we believe the instant message medium forms an environment in which one is prone to neglect the joint commitment required for a face-to-face conversation. This contributes to a less challenging environment for the instant message user. Finally, Herring suggests leaving the question “open-ended” (p. 8). The primary idea behind this last characteristic is the results may yield more unexpected results in comparison to a closed question.

By applying these four characteristics to our research question, we have tried to ensure our project will yield some intriguing results without succumbing to the pitfalls of a research question that was too narrow in scope or unfeasible to achieve. Ultimately, we should be able to examine the intricacies of entry and exit patterns of face-to-face conversations compared to instant message communication and draw some significant conclusions.

Get WordPress Accounts

Hey Everyone,

You’re probably all ahead of me on this, but I think the blog will work best if we all create WordPress accounts and give ourselves administrator access to theINgroup blog. That way, when we post it will post under our names.

If you are unfamiliar with how to do this, I can help you or I’m sure Ishan and probably a couple others can make it happen.

Research Questions

Let’s start throwing ideas at the wall for this week’s assignment, and either through comments or new posts, try and narrow it down to one that we’d like Matt to write about. Also, feel free to throw questions out to the group if you had any difficulty with Clark or with Herring. We can help each other, or if we find we’re all stumped, we can make a note to ask Jeff in class.

I’ll start with a few ideas I had. I use open-ended questions here with the idea that we would use Clark to derive a testable hypothesis and Herring to derive methods:

  • How does e-mail that is marked as having been forwarded from another source affect the likelihood of the recipient taking up a dialogue with the sender?  
  • How does assigning a customized ring tone to an individual affect your likelihood of answering when that person calls?
  • How does hearing a “ringback” tone instead of a ringing sound affect how long a caller will stay on the line before hanging up, or whether they will continue on the line long enough to leave a message?
  • In face to face conversations, how are electronic interruptions (i.e. one party’s cell phone ringing or vibrating) dealt with?

I hope you are all enjoying the readings.


The Pledge

“We pledge to go all in for the duration of this project by being honest, communicative, and accountable.”