Social information processing theory

Social information processing theory

Social information processing (SIP) theory is an interpersonal communication theory that suggests that online interpersonal relationship development might require more time to develop than traditional face-to-face relationships. Joseph Walther developed this theory in 1992.

Once established, online personal relationships demonstrate the same relational dimensions and qualities as face to face relationships. Online personal relationships may help facilitate relationships that would not be formed in face to face world due to intergroup differences.


A theory of online communication

There have been numerous attempts by researchers to formulate a theory that explains the nature of online interactions. While the earliest theories focused on more negative aspects, frequently depicting online communication as depersonalizing, more recently developed theories are more optimistic, characterizing online interactants as capable of forming impressions and relationships with those they meet online. One such theory is called social information processing (SIP) theory. SIP theory, often referred to as "cues filtered in," proposes that despite the lack of nonverbal communication inherent in online interactions, people formulate ways to give off and interpret individuating information.[1] Instead, people seek out and interpret cues that serve as substitutes of nonverbal communication, such as use of emoticons and time stamps. We know from various studies conducted face-to-face (f2f) that people, by their very nature, are motivated in interactions with others to "reduce interpersonal uncertainty, form impressions, and develop affinity (535)."[1] This is found in online interactions as well. SIP theory thus constructs people as beings capable of adopting and interpreting alternate methods to form impressions of others in the absence of cues present in f2f interactions. Instead of passively allowing the internet to influence and shape people’s communication behaviors, people use the internet and the clues it provides to interpret and form impressions of others. People are thus capable of taking a low-bandwidth media and using the limited cues it provides us with to construct perceptions of others.


Despite the fact that social information processing theory offers a more optimistic perspective through which to perceive of and analyze online interactions, the theory is not without its criticisms. Even though Walther (2002) proposes that users of computer-mediated communication (CMC) have the same interpersonal needs as those communicating face-to-face, he proposes that the lack of visual cues inherent in CMC are disadvantages to be overcome over time.[1] Thus, because the internet is a lower bandwidth medium through which to communicate than face-to-face interaction, more time is needed for interactants to get to know one another.[1] The fact that proponents of SIP theory still conceive of the internet medium as impoverished or lacking, firmly roots SIP theory in the "loss camp" of CMC. Walther's (2002) claim that over time CMC may be able to match face-to-face communication in its "socialness" proves to be anathema to the theory's assumption that the internet is a social medium.

Furthermore, many of Walther's hypotheses prior to conducting studies ultimately banked on the misguided assumption that social behavior would be greater in face-to-face interactions than online. In one such study conducted in 1995, Walther used this very hypothesis, but added that differences in socialness between the two media would disappear in time.[2] Walther was surprised to find that his results turned out to be contrary to this prediction. The results showed that, regardless of time-scale, CMC groups were rated higher in most measures of relational communication than those participating in the face-to-face condition.[2]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Walther, J. B., & Parks, M. (2002). Cues filtered out, cues filtered in. Handbook of interpersonal communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  2. ^ a b Joinson, Adam. (2003). Understanding the psychology of Internet behavior. Palgrave Macmillan.

Further reading

  • Joinson, Adam. (2003). Understanding the psychology of Internet behavior. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Walther, J. B. (1992). Interpersonal effects in computer-mediated interaction: A relational perspective. Communication Research, 19, 52–90.
  • Walther, J. B., & Parks, M. (2002). Cues filtered out, cues filtered in. Handbook of Interpersonal Communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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