Media Effects Research Lab - Research Archive

Asking, crying, complaining, or sulking? Examining support seeking through communication channels

Student Researcher(s)

Jason Qian (Ph.D Candidate); Lynsey Medd (Ph.D Candidate); Nhung Cam Vu (Ph.D Candidate)

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

This paper was based on a project as part of the " COMM 517: Psychological Aspects of Communication Technology" course.


Introduction
When facing life stressors, people often reach out to others for social support. Receiving support has been found to enhance individuals’ well-being (Thoits, 2011; Uchino, Bowen, de Grey, Mikel, & Fisher, 2018). However, people may not be able to experience these benefits unless they seek support. While support provision has been studied extensively, less is known about support seeking and support seeking via multiple channels of communication. This study aims to examine how communication channels interact with factors related to support seekers to influence support seeking strategies. 


Hypotheses
H1: The richness of the communication channel is positively associated with indirect support seeking strategies, such that people will use more indirect support seeking strategies (i.e., hinting and sighing) in face-to-face interactions and video calls than in text messages or with chatbots
H2: The effect of modality on the directness of support seeking is mediated by the perceived social presence of the modality such that greater perceived social presence would lead to indirect forms of in support seeking (i.e., hinting and sighing)
H2a: Support seeking via face-to-face interactions will include more hinting and sighing than support seeking via video calls, text messages, and chatbot because perceived social presence would be greater in the face-to-face condition compared to text messages, video calls, and chatbot conditions.
H2b: Support seeking via video calls will include more hinting and sighing than support seeking via text messages and chatbot because perceived social presence would be greater in the video calls condition compared to text messages, and chatbot conditions.
H2c: Support seeking via text messages will include more hinting than support seeking via chatbots because perceived social presence would be greater in the text messages condition compared to the chatbot condition.
H3: Individuals’ communicative ability, motivation, perceived availability of social support, and perceived severity of stressor will moderate the relationship between perceived social presence and support seeking behaviors.


Method
Participants and Procedures
Participants were be recruited from a large Northeastern university to participate in an online survey. First, participants were be asked to recall a stressful event they have experienced. Then, participants were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions (face-to-face, text message, video call, and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm) where they were asked to imagine themselves seeking support from a close other (except for AI) through that channel. For the AI condition, participants were asked to imagine themselves seeking support from a chatbot. Finally, participants completed a questionnaire regarding the severity of stressor, support seeking strategies (i.e., direct/indirect support seeking), and their ability and motivation to seek support. 
Key Measures
Communicative adaptability was measured with 30 items adapted from Duran (1983, 1992). Participants will be asked to rate each statement on a five-point scale on how it relates to their general style of communication in social situations from 1 (never true of me) to 5 (always true of me). 
Perceived availability of social support was measured with 12 items adapted from Zimet et al. (1988). Participants will be asked to indicate the degree to which they agree with the statements on a five-point scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
Perceived severity of stressor was measured with three items adapted from Burleson et al. (2011). Participants will be asked to indicate the degree to which they perceive the stressor on a five-point scale from 1 (not at all serious/severe/upsetting) to 5 (very serious/severe/upsetting).
Motivation to seek support was measured with five items adapted from Bodie (2013). Participants will be asked to indicate the degree to which they agree with the statements on a seven-point scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). 
Social presence was measured with seven items tailored to each experimental condition from Gunawardena & Zittle (1997), aimed to measure participants’ perception of social presence for the communication they were assigned to. Participants were asked to indicate the degree to which they agreed with the statements on a five-point scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
Support seeking strategies was measured with 16 items adapted from Derlega et al. (2003). Participants will rate each statement on a five-point scale with higher scores indicating greater reported use of a particular behavior. 


Results
First, inconsistent with our predictions, we found that participants in the face-to-face condition reported significantly more verbal direct seeking and less nonverbal indirect seeking behaviors than participants in the other three conditions. And participants in the video call condition reported more verbal direct seeking and less verbal indirect seeking than participants in text message and AI chatbot conditions. Moreover, participants in the text message condition reported more verbal direct seeking than participants in the AI chatbot condition.
Second, we found that social presence mediated the relationship between communication channels and support seeking behaviors, such that participants in the face-to-face condition reported significantly higher perceived social presence of their modality than participants in the other three conditions, thus leading to significant more direct verbal seeking behaviors, significantly less indirect verbal seeking behaviors, and less indirect nonverbal seeking behaviors.
Third, we found evidence supporting that social support and communicative ability moderate the mediational path from modality to support seeking behaviors via social presence, such that the indirect effects of social presence are the strongest when participants have higher social support or communicative ability.

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Discussion
Our findings offer several theoretical implications for research in interpersonal communication and computer mediated communication. We found support for the dual process theory of supportive communication outcomes. Although the dual process theory of supportive outcomes is traditionally used to explain provisions of social support and evaluations of supportive messages, the findings of our study show that this theory can explain support seeking strategies as well. Furthermore, we also found evidence suggesting that people’s perceptions of social presence explain the relationship between communication channels and support seeking strategies.

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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