Transformed social interaction in mediated interpersonal communication

Bailenson, J.N., Yee, N., Blascovich, J., & Guadagno, R.E. (2008). Transformed social interaction in mediated interpersonal communication. In Konijn, E., Tanis, M., Utz, S. & Linden, A. (Eds.), Mediated Interpersonal Communication (pp. 77-99). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


Over time, our mode of remote communication has evolved from written letters to telephones, email, internet chat rooms, and video-conferences. Similarly, virtual environments that utilize digital representations of humans promise to further change the nature of remote interaction. virtual environments are systems which track verbal and nonverbal signals of multiple interactants and render those signals onto avatars, three-dimensional, digital representations of people in a shared digital space. Unlike telephone conversations and video-conferences, interactants in virtual environments have the ability to systematically filter the physical appearance and behavioral actions of their avatars in the eyes of their conversational partners, amplifying or suppressing features and nonverbal signals in real time for strategic purposes. These transformations can have a drastic impact on interactants’ persuasive and instructional abilities. Furthermore, researchers can use this mismatch between actions performed by a speaker and actions perceived by an audience as a tool to examine complex patterns of nonverbal behavior which are difficult to isolate in face-to-face interaction.

We first discuss a framework for classifying digital human representations and the role they play in Computer Mediated Communication (CMC). We then present a theory called Transformed Social Interaction (TSI) that explores how CMC allows people to interact in ways not possible face-to-face. We review a number of published studies examining TSI as well as summaries of new, unpublished data and work that is currently in progress. We conclude by relating CMC to theories of social influence, discussing the next step in digital human research and applications, and discussing potential ethical problems with TSI