Vicarious Interactions in Online Support Communities: The Roles of Visual Anonymity and Social Identification

Yue Dai, Jingyuan SHI

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Online information seekers often do not actively post or engage in interactions with others, inviting research on how passive users of online communities benefit from the information they see. Based on the social identity model of deindividuation effects model (SIDE) and social identity theory, we proposed and tested the idea that observers of a supportive interaction online could relate to the observed support seeker based on their shared gender and, in turn, become vicariously influenced by the support provider’s message to the support seeker. An experiment using a sample of young adults (N = 326) in the United States provided support to the proposition. Furthermore, the outcomes of the vicarious interaction were qualified by the genders of the observed interactants and enhanced by the lack of profile photos. The findings advance the understandings of vicarious interaction in online context and guide the design of online communities to promote mental well-being.

Lay Summary

Ample evidence shows that people benefit tremendously from participating in online health support communities, but less is understood about how people who do not actively participate in interactions benefit from these communities. We conducted an online experiment using a sample of young adults in the United States. The results showed that females, compared with males, are more likely to be persuaded to seek professional counseling for mental health issues from observing a supportive conversation online. The persuasive effect of reading supportive interactions was enhanced when female participants shared the same gender with the observed support seeker and when the observed interactants had no profile photos.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberzmac006
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Computer-Mediated Communication
Volume27
Issue number3
Early online date13 Apr 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2022

User-Defined Keywords

  • Vicarious Interaction
  • Social Identification
  • The Social Identity Model Of Deindividuation Effects (SIDE)
  • Visual Anonymity
  • Online Mental Health Community

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