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posted 10 Jan 2011, 17:54 by Jess Maher

Group theories

There are also a number of technology related theories that address how (media) technology affects group processes. Broadly, these theories are concerned with the social effects of communication media. Some (e.g., media richness) are concerned with questions of media choice (i.e., when to use what medium effectively). Other theories (social presence, SIDE, media naturalness) are concerned with the consequences of those media choices (i.e., what are the social effects of using particular communication media).

  • Social presence theory (Short, et al., 1976) is a seminal theory of the social effects of communication technology. Its main concern is with telephony and telephone conferencing (the research was sponsored by the British Post Office, now British Telecom). It argues that the social impact of a communication medium depend on the social presence it allows communicators to have. Social presence is defined as a property of the medium itself: the degree of acoustic, visual, and physical contact that it allows. The theory assumes that more contact will increase the key components of "presence": greater intimacy, immediacy, warmth and inter-personal rapport. As a consequence of social presence, social influence is expected to increase. In the case of communication technology, the assumption is that more text-based forms of interaction (e-mail, instant messaging) are less social, and therefore less conducive to social influence.
  • Media richness theory (Daft & Lengel, 1986) shares some characteristics with social presence theory. It posits that the amount of information communicated differs with respect to a medium's richness. The theory assumes that resolving ambiguity and reducing uncertainty are the main goals of communication. Because communication media differ in the rate of understanding they can achieve in a specific time (with "rich" media carrying more information), they are not all capable of resolving uncertainty and ambiguity well. The more restricted the medium's capacity, the less uncertainty and equivocality it is able to manage. It follows that the richness of the media should be matched to the task so as to prevent over simplification or complication.
  • Media naturalness theory (Kock, 2001; 2004) builds on human evolution ideas and has been proposed as an alternative to media richness theory. Media naturalness theory argues that since our Stone Age hominid ancestors have communicated primarily face-to-face, evolutionary pressures have led to the development of a brain that is consequently designed for that form of communication. Other forms of communication are too recent and unlikely to have posed evolutionary pressures that could have shaped our brain in their direction. Using communication media that suppress key elements found in face-to-face communication, as many electronic communication media do, thus ends up posing cognitive obstacles to communication. This is particularly the case in the context of complex tasks (e.g., business process redesign, new product development, online learning), because such tasks seem to require more intense communication over extended periods of time than simple tasks.
  • Media synchronicity theory (MST, Dennis & Valacich, 1999]) redirects richness theory towards the synchronicity of the communication.
  • The social identity model of deindividuation effects (or SIDE model, Postmes, Spears and Lea 1999; Reicher, Spears and Postmes, 1995; Spears & Lea, 1994) was developed as a response to the idea that anonymity and reduced presence made communication technology socially impoverished (or "deindividuated"). It provided an alternative explanation for these "deindividuation effects" based on theories of social identity (e.g., Turner et al., 1987). The SIDE model distinguishes cognitive and strategic effects of a communication technology. Cognitive effects occur when communication technologies make "salient" particular aspects of personal or social identity. For example, certain technologies such as email may disguise characteristics of the sender that individually differentiate them (i.e., that convey aspects of their personal identity) and as a result more attention may be given to their social identity. The strategic effects are due to the possibilities, afforded by communication technology, to selectively communicate or enact particular aspects of identity, and disguise others. SIDE therefore sees the social and the technological as mutually determining, and the behavior associated with particular communication forms as the product or interaction of the two.
  • Time, interaction, and performance (TIP; McGrath, 1991) theory describes work groups as time-based, multi-modal, and multi-functional social systems. Groups interact in one of the modes of inception, problem solving, conflict resolution, and execution. The three functions of a group are production (towards a goal), support (affective) and well-being (norms and roles).