Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 58, No. 1, 2002, pp. 9--31
Relationship Formation on the Internet: What’s
the Big Attraction?
Katelyn Y. A. McKenna,∗ Amie S. Green, and Marci E. J. Gleason New York University
We hypothesized that people who can better disclose their “true” or inner self to others on the Internet than in face-to-face settings will be more likely to form close relationships on-line and will tend to bring those virtual relationships into their “real” lives. Study 1, a survey of randomly selected Internet newsgroup posters, showed that those who better express their true self over the Internet were more likely than others to have formed close on-line relationships and moved these friendships to a face-to-face basis. Study 2 revealed that the majority of these close Internet relationships were still intact 2 years later. Finally, a laboratory experiment found that undergraduates liked each other more following an Internet compared to a face-to-face initial meeting.
The Internet has become a prime venue for social interaction (D’Amico, 1998). Through e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, newsgroups, and other means, people are sharing aspects of their daily lives, talking about interests with likeminded others, and keeping in touch with family and friends. Social interaction has become the primary use of home computers (e.g., Moore, 2000). In the midst of all this social activity, people are forming relationships with those whom they meet on the Internet—especially those with whom they interact on a regular basis. In many if not most ways, social interaction on the Internet resembles that in traditional, face-to-face venues (see Tyler, this issue). However, we will argue that there are some important differences. For example, there are qualities of Internet communication and interaction, such as its greater anonymity, that are known to produce greater intimacy and closeness. There are aspects of the Internet ∗ Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Katelyn Y. A. McKenna, Department of Psychology, New York University, 6 Washington Place, Seventh Floor, New York, NY 10003 [e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org]. Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by a Research Challenge Fund grant from New York University to McKenna. 9
2002 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
McKenna, Green, and Gleason
that enable partners to get past the usual obstacles or “gates” that in traditional interaction settings often prevent potentially rewarding relationships from getting off the ground. Still other features facilitate relationship development by providing meeting places for specialized interests, so that members have important features in common from the start.
Special Qualities of Internet Communication
The Intimate Internet
Considerable research on intimate relationships has shown that both selfdisclosure and partner disclosure increase the experience of intimacy in interactions (e.g., Laurenceau, Barrett, & Pietromonaco, 1998; Reis & Shaver, 1988). However, disclosing quite intimate information about oneself normally occurs only after liking and trust have been established between relationship partners. As Derlega and Chaikin (1977) posited, individuals usually do not engage in self-disclosure with one another until they are confident that they have formed a “dyadic boundary,” ensuring that information disclosed by one is not leaked by the other to mutual acquaintances. Even so, such a dyadic boundary may be violated or the other member may respond negatively to the disclosure. As Pennebaker (1989) and others (e.g., Derlega, Metts, Petronio, & Margulis, 1993) have noted, there are clear dangers in disclosing personal information, such as the risk of ridicule or outright rejection by one’s friends and family.
The relative anonymity of Internet interactions greatly reduces the risks of such disclosure, especially about intimate aspects of the self,...
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