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Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication

Preliminary Development of a Model and


Measure of Computer-Mediated
Communication (CMC) Competence
Brian H. Spitzberg
School of Communication
San Diego State University

The rationale for developing a theoretical model of computer-mediated communication


(CMC) competence is established through review of social trends in the use of new
media technologies. Special attention is paid to the role new media play in the formation
and development of personal relationships. A model of CMC competence is then developed along the lines of motivation, knowledge, skills, context, and outcomes as a metaphorical typology for organizing existing CMC research. This research is reviewed as it
informs, and is organized by, the model of CMC competence. A sampling of formal
propositions resulting from the model is elaborated, and the results of preliminary pilot
studies of the model are reviewed. The model is offered as a first step in examining individual differences in the domain of CMC relationships and media choice.
doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2006.00030.x

Introduction

Different media, which provide different sensory information, often produce different effects. Historically, every major innovation in communication technology has
demonstrated a complex interplay with social forces to produce transformative
effects on human relationships (Cheseboro, 2000; Cochrane, 1995; Inose & Pierce,
1984; Kedzie, 1997; McQuillen, 2003; Meyrowitz, 1985). Both the potential bright
(utopian) and dark (dystopian) sides of such technological communications revolutions have been debated at length (e.g., Bargh, 2002; Gergen, 1991; Turkle, 1995),
and the objective trends in social diffusion studied at length (e.g., Rideout, Roberts,
& Foehr, 2005; U.S. Dept. of Commerce, 1998). If new technologies translate into
new effects on society and human relationships, it follows that the competence with
which any given person utilizes these new technologies is likely to affect whether this
person views the technology as utopian or dystopian. This article formulates a theory
of computer-mediated communication (CMC) competence in an attempt to model
skill with computer-based interpersonal communication.
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At least two caveats to the transformative effects of communication technologies


bear consideration. First, from a theoretical perspective, strong effects perspectives
toward communication technologies have predominated. There is a tendency, especially in the early stages of theorizing that follow the diffusion of new technologies, to
overattribute effects to technology and underattribute effects to the individual and
social contexts. For example, early research tended to view mass communication
messages as magic bullets, unidirectionally producing strong effects in the form of
persuasion. This paradigm gave way to a more moderated or interactionist paradigm, which recognized the importance of social and contextual forces in attenuating
and accelerating the impact of mass communication. This interactionist paradigm
is reflected more in current research trends in CMC (e.g., Hardy & Scheufele,
2005), although some anticipate a comeback by strong effects approaches (Herring,
2004).
The second caveat to the strong effects model of communication technology is
that the complexity of technology and human relationships tends to require some
degree of hindsight before even the right questions can be asked, much less the most
accurate understandings formed (Herring, 2004). Such caveats have only recently
begun framing the scholarly understanding of the Internet and its affiliated technological ancillaries (e.g., the world wide web, chat spaces, MUDs, MOOs, blogging,
instant messaging or IM, videoconferencing, etc.). Collectively, these various uses of
CMC are having transformative effects on human relations, but a full appreciation of
the complexity of these effects remains elusive.
This analysis proffers a theory of computer-mediated communication competence to organize the accumulating scholarship on CMC. Before defining CMC
competence, we identify some scope conditions. A theory of CMC competence does
not directly compete with theories of media effects. For example, measures of CMC
competence may provide useful dependent variables for models such as the social
identification/deindividuation (SIDE) model (Lea & Spears, 1995; Spears, Postmes,
Lea, & Wolbert, 2002), but competence itself is not intended to account for why
CMC produces different communication effects from face-to-face (FtF) interaction.
Likewise, a theory of CMC competence only partly overlaps with theories of how
interaction differs based on the interaction medium. For example, hyperpersonal
models (e.g., Walther, 1996) may claim that interaction will be differentially competent based on various parameters such as anticipated future interaction and task
orientation, but these are not models of individual differences in competence given
such parameters. A comprehensive theory of CMC interaction will eventually need to
integrate models across such parameters.
CMC is tentatively defined as any human symbolic text-based interaction conducted or facilitated through digitally-based technologies. This working definition
includes the Internet; cellular phone text, instant messaging (IM), and multiuser
interactions (MUDs & MOOs); email and listserv interactions; and text-supplemented videoconferencing (e.g., decision support systems). This definition requires
actual people engaged in a process of message interchange in which the medium of
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exchange at some point is computerized. There are some electronically enabled or


enhanced, or otherwise mediated, forms of communication that might not qualify as
CMC, including use of megaphones, hearing aids, or dedicated analog teletype
systems. Furthermore, many media not ordinarily considered computers are
included, as more and more media involve digital technologies. This definition
intends to draw attention to the role of computer-assisted convergence in the technologically-mediated processes of communication.
The proposed theory is not strictly constrained to online interaction. Instead, it
applies to any interpersonal communication process mediated through computerassisted technologies. For example, when someone elects to IM rather than use
vocalized phone or FtF interaction, this choice reflects a set of decisions about the
functional value of that medium in that context. The cellular phone is a computer
and will increasingly converge with all the various characteristics currently associated
exclusively with computers. The cell phone also represents a set of technological
constraints and affordances. Some of those constraints can be compensated for
and others are more intractable. Consequently, this model is proposed to apply to
all interactions that could be considered interpersonal computer-mediated interactions in which there are interdependent message response capabilities. To the extent
that the Internet and websites provide a forum for email interaction, they could be
within the scope of this model. However, the model is not intended to refer to
specific hardware or software expertise, which tends to involve specialized forms
of knowledge and skill.
The term text is not confined to linguistic symbols. Instead, it is defined broadly,
consistent with cultural studies in which images, architecture, metaphors, and other
message forms take on iconographic meaning. Specifically, text is defined as any
message form to which patterned meanings are attributed. In this sense, sending
advertisements or photographs through a cellular phone represents types of texts
intended as messages. As technology converges and evolves, such definitions will also
evolve. As technology increasingly permits virtual reality to approximate real life
(RL), CMC will increasingly blur the notion of text, perhaps to the point of
dissolving its technological aspect entirely. Until then, the delimitation to text is
a useful working space for analysis (Walther & Parks, 2002).
The Web and its Web of Relations

The geometry of CMC diffusion is astonishing by almost any standard of evaluation.


Between 2000 and 2005 Internet usage grew an average of 160% worldwideNorth
America alone now has 68% of its population using the Internet, representing almost
a quarter of worldwide usage (Internet World Stats, 2005). According to the Pew
Internet and American Life Project (2000, hereafter Pew), every day close to 50
million Americans log onto the Internet, send or read email, and perform some
activity on the World Wide Web. According to studies of U.S. youth, about half
go online daily, about 85% live in homes with a computer, and one third have used
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their cellular phones to send text messages (Lenhart, Madden, & Hitlin, 2005; Rideout et al., 2005). While diffusion is far lower in some other countries and cultures,
the curve of diffusion is still steep (Cochrane, 1995; Kedzie, 1997). As technological
distinctions dissolve between cell phones, television, and the computer, and as costs
decrease, it seems inevitable that the reverberations of the communications revolution will be felt for some time into the future.
One of the most dramatic intersections of CMC and social contexts is in the
arena of relationship initiation, maintenance, and dissolution. Until relatively recent
times, CMC seemed to be viewed as text delivery media suited mostly to taskoriented applications (Garton & Wellman, 1995; Shields & Samarajiva, 1993; Sitkin,
Sutcliffe, & Barrios-Choplin, 1992). People are increasingly integrating CMC into
their repertoire of relationship development resources (Hovick, Meyers, & Timmerman, 2003; McCown, Fischer, Page, & Homant, 2001). The Internet has come to
rival the telephone as a medium for conducting personal relationships (Baym,
Zhang, & Lin, 2004, p. 306). Sizable proportions of CMC and Internet users yoke
these technologies to relationship formation and development (see Table 1). Those
who meet through CMC often make the transition to face-to-face or mixed-media
relationships (Cornwell & Lundgren, 2001; Cummings, Butler, & Kraut, 2002;
McKenna, Green, & Gleason, 2002). As CMC diffusion increases, and as technological innovations enhance convenience, affordability, and applications, the value of
CMC to relationship development is likely to increase.
Despite the relational uses of CMC, time invested online may in some way come
at the expense of face-to-face (FtF) relationship contact or other important aspects of
relationships, such as network size, density, or quality of interaction (Cai, 2004). One
of the assumptions underlying this concern is that time spent on the Internet is time
away from more social or real activities. Almost two thirds of online teens (62%)
think that the Internet does keep young people from doing more important things
(Pew, 2001, p. 31). Discontented youths appear to spend more time using media
than their most highly contented peers (Rideout et al., 2005, p. 24). A study of chat
room users found almost 32% considered that use of the Internet interferes with
other activities (Peris et al., 2002, p. 47). The trade-off may also occur in certain
types of relationships. For example, 64% of online teens say they think use of the
Internet takes away from the time young people spend with their families (Pew,
2001, p. 3). A corollary of this reasoning is that Internet use is positively related to
loneliness and depression due to lack of more social forms or more real contact.
Some research has shown slight but significant increases in loneliness and depression
over time (Kraut et al., 1998), and decreases in social and familial involvement
(Kraut et al., 1998; Nie & Erbring, 2000) with increasing Internet use. Many of these
studies indicate that online interactions and relationships are in some significant
way, wanting relative to more traditional media (Cummings et al., 2002).
These studies are far from uncontested. In the Nie and Erbring (2000) study, the
vast majority of Internet users reported no effect of time online with time communicating with friends or family. The negative effects were concentrated among a small
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Table 1 Relationship development and CMC


.5 to 1% of respondents indicated finding a romantic partner was a goal of Internet use, but
7% reported becoming emotionally involved with someone on the Internet (Knox, Daniels,
Sturdivant, & Zusman, 2001)
l 8% of sample had formed a close romantic relationship on the Internet (Nice & Katzev,
1998)
l 17% of instant messaging users have asked someone to go out with them with an instant
message, and 13% of instant messaging users have broken up with someone via an
instant message (Pew, 2001, p. 22).
l 20% of teens have asked someone out using IM, and 19% have broken up with someone
using IM (Lenhart et al., 2005)
l 17% of youths had formed at least one close online relationship in the past year (Wolak,
Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2002, p. 445)
l 19% of college students have formed a relationship online before meeting in person (Jones,
2002)
l 29% reported having established new friendships over the Internet/email; the distributions
were similar for men and women (Goodson, McCormack, & Evans, 2001, p. 106)
l 37% of sample have used the Internet to meet someone new, 3.6% have used an Internet
dating service, 3.5% responded to an online personal ad, 16.8% have used the Internet to
flirt with strangers, 10.6% established a long-distance relationship because of the Internet,
and 43.6% have maintained a long-distance relationship because of the Internet
(Rumbough, 2001)
l 40% or more of college students sampled state their goal in meeting people on the Internet
was friendship (Knox et al., 2001)
l 42% of college students use the Internet primarily to communicate socially (Jones, 2002)
l 48% of Internet users say they can turn to many people for support in a time of need,
while just 38% of nonusers report they have a large social network (Pew, 2000, p. 21)
l 55% of Internet users say their email exchanges have improved their connections to family
members (Pew, 2000, p. 7)
l 60% of college students sampled have met someone via Internet, of which 26% became
friendships (Knox et al., 2001)
l 61% of usenet group Ss report developing at least one dyadic personal relationship online,
8% of which were described as a romantic relationship (Parks & Floyd, 1996)
l 63% of newsgroup respondents had spoken to someone they met via the Internet on the
telephone, 56% had exchanged pictures of themselves, 54% had written a letter through the
post, and 54% had met with an Internet friend in a face-to-face situation, tending to meet
an individual an average of eight times (McKenna et al., 2002, p. 17)
l 66% of Internet users say email has improved their connections with significant friends,
60% of those who email friends report they communicate with significant friends more
often now that they use email (Pew, 2000, p. 7)
l 72% say most of their online communication is with friends, 11% of whom mention
communicating with their boyfriend or girlfriend off campus as their most common email
activity (Jones, 2002)
l

(continued)

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Table 1 Continued
l

81% of women and 53% of men indicated they had started an in-person friendship via
online Matchmaker services; 57% of women and 30% of men indicated they had established a romantic or sexual relationship through online Matchmaker services (Scharlott &
Christ, 1995)
94% of MOO users reported forming personal relationships with other MOO users, 26%
of which were romantic (Parks & Roberts, 1998)
90% of teens using IM use it to stay in touch with geographically distant friends or
friends not in their own school (Lenhart et al., 2005)

percentage of (problematic) users (Caplan, 2002; McKenna et al., 2002; MorahanMartin & Schumacher, 2000), a finding supported by a Pew (2000) survey in which
only 8% of Internet users reported they were socially isolated, although over twice as
many nonusers (18%) reported they had no one or hardly anyone to turn to
(p. 21). Furthermore, when Kraut et al. (2002) resampled the respondents from their
original study three years later, they found that depression, which in the original
study increased with increasing Internet use, actually significantly decreased with
increasing Internet use, and loneliness no longer showed a significant association
with increasing Internet use (see also Wastlund, Norlander, & Archer, 2001). AmichaiHamburger and Ben-Artzi (2003) compared the Nie and Erbring hypothesis that
Internet use leads to loneliness with the rival hypothesis that lonelier people are more
likely to be drawn to use of the Internet, finding more support for the latter. This is
consistent with research on Internet motives that found lonely users were generally
more sociable online than offline (Morahan-Martin & Schumacher, 2003, p. 665).
The possibility exists that loneliness and depression are related to Internet and
CMC use, but in complex ways. This possibility is suggested by a study that found
email and Internet use were unrelated to depression at the bivariate level, but were
predictive in a more complex path model (LaRose, Eastin, & Gregg, 2001). Other
research indicates that the causal path may be reversed, suggesting that those who are
lonely or socially anxious are particularly likely to use, and get the most out of, CMC
interaction (cf., Patterson & Gojdycz, 2000). McKenna et al.s (2002) path analysis
showed social anxiety and loneliness facilitating expression of ones true self online,
which predicted intimacy and the speed of developing intimacy, as well as the likelihood of using other modes of communication for relational contact. However, other
research suggests that when lonely and socially anxious persons reach out through
CMC, they engage people less likely to assuage such loneliness. Gross, Juvonen, and
Gable (2002, p. 85) found that teenagers who, on average, reported feeling more
daily loneliness or social anxiety in school were more likely to communicate with
a stranger than with a friend or close friend after school. Finally, based on a large
representative sample, Wolak et al., (2002, p. 110) found that a disproportionate
number of adolescents with close online relationships were highly troubled, reported
high amounts of conflict with their parents, low communication with parents and
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engaged in high levels of delinquency. It is unclear whether (a) these problems result
from Internet use, (b) youths attempt to compensate for these problems by developing online relationships, or (c) there is a more complex interplay among these factors.
The preponderance of other simple survey research seems to indicate the net
effect of the Internet and CMC technologies is, for the majority of users, to expand
and enhance relationship networks, specific relational bonds, and, in many cases, the
quality of relational interaction. In a separate study by Kraut et al. (2002), increasing
use of the Internet correlated positively with indicators of social network size and
familial involvement. In another survey, 59% of those who email family members
report they communicate more often with significant family members now that they
use email, 66% of Internet users say email has improved their connections with
significant friends, and 60% of those who email friends report they communicate
with significant friends more often now that they use email (Pew, 2000, p. 7). In
a later survey, 48% say their use of the Internet improves their relationship with
friends; 32% say Internet tools help them make new friends (Pew, 2001, p. 3).
Rideout et al. (2005, p. 14) found that those young people who spend the most
time using media are also those whose lives are the most full with family, friends,
sports, and other interests. At least a priori, then, the average person seems to view
CMC as enabling or empowering in terms of relationship management, at least
under certain strategic circumstances.
One theory in particular predicts CMC and leaner media actually facilitate
development of intimacy because of their hyperpersonal affordances (e.g., Walther,
1996). McKenna et al. (2002) hypothesize that CMC creates greater intimacy because
of its (1) anonymity, (2) lack of gating barriers (e.g., physical attraction cues), and
(3) facilitation of locating those with shared interests. These features are predicted to
increase self-disclosure and expression of true self. CMC interactions, compared to
FtF interactions, appear to display greater self-disclosure and more depth and
breadth of questions (Tidwell & Walther, 2002; Whitty, 2002). One survey found
that about one-third of people believe it is easier to disclose frank and unpleasant
things through email (Pew, 2000), which was generally viewed as an important
benefit for openness in family and friend relationships.
It follows that Internet relationships tend to develop closeness and intimacy
more quickly than do real-life relationships (McKenna et al., 2002, p. 20). Participants who interact via the Internet like one another more than those who interact
FtF (Bargh, McKenna, & Fitzsimons, 2002). Other research showed that CMC interaction prior to FtF interaction increased enjoyment of the interaction (Dietz-Uhler &
Bishop-Clark, 2001). McKenna et al. (2002) found that the relationship between
liking and the processes of uncertainty reduction, depth, and breadth of disclosure
was greater in CMC interactions than in FtF interactions (McKenna et al., 2002).
Walther (1997) found group members given a longer-term identity perceived one
another as more socially attractive than short-term identity members. Long-term
members with group identity perceived one another as more physically attractive
than short-term members with group identity, despite the fact they had never seen
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one another. Longer-term horizons of interaction apparently allow CMC to amplify


social and relational interaction, especially when identification with the group as
a whole rather than individual differences among members is salient. In contrast,
Bertacco and Deponte (2005) found that the efficiency benefits of email relative to
letter-writing tend to detract from the invocation of references to common relational
ground (i.e., relationship memories), although egocentrism of messages did not
differ across media.
Such hyperpersonal effects are likely to be affected by individual differences
among users. For example, it is often stereotypically presumed that people who
enter cyberspace to form interpersonal relationships generally show greater difficulties in social face-to-face situations. They are considered shy and anxious people who
have to hide behind a computer screen to be able to interact socially (Peris et al.,
2002, p. 44). It could be that lonely or socially anxious users may find FtF interaction
too awkward for relationship initiation, and may benefit disproportionately from
CMC (McKenna et al., 2002). Extroverts (Amichai-Hamburger & Ben-Artzi, 2003;
Kraut et al., 2002; Mazur, Burns, & Emmers-Sommer, 2000; Wastlund et al., 2001; cf.
Peris et al., 2002) and those who are particularly comfortable, confident, or expert in
CMC use may disproportionately use or benefit from relational uses of CMC (see
Campbell & Neer, 2001; Hacker & Steiner, 2001; Mazur et al., 2000; Tewksbury &
Althaus, 2000; cf. Wright, 2000). So, for example, CMC efficacy appears to attenuate
the link between CMC or Internet use and depression and loneliness (LaRose et al.,
2001). People who are skeptical of CMCs capacity for facilitating relationships
naturally appear to achieve less relationship development through CMC (Utz, 2000).
In summary, research demonstrates CMC has infiltrated, supplemented, and perhaps in some cases supplanted, the arsenal of courtship and relationship pursuit,
development, and management (Baym et al., 2004). CMC has become an important
resource for developing and maintaining familial, friend, romantic, and coworker
relationships (Lea & Spears, 1995). Therefore, a thorough understanding of CMCs
role in relationship management becomes an important priority for scholarly agendas.
Toward a Model of CMC Competence

Theories and models are metaphors (Hawes, 1975; McQuail & Windahl, 1993).
Theories and models serve as organizing devices for segmenting the symbolic realm
of comprehension in a world that is potentially almost infinitely complex. The price
paid in exclusion is ideally made up for through comprehension and research progress (Koutougos, 1989; Lakatos, 1970; Papineau, 1989). The metaphorical aspect of
theories and models is all the more apparent in the social sciences, where symbolic
practices and theorists self-reflectively comprise both object and observer (Ashmore,
1989). Models at moderate levels of abstraction may offer the most useful level
(Turner, 1985, 1990) for organizing conceptions of CMC. Therefore, the value of
a relatively comprehensive organizing scheme for the CMC literature is intended to
outweigh the limitations imposed by its nascent status.
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Previous research has tended to focus on the effects of CMC media, leading to the
relative inattention to the social actor using the media. The theories that have been
formulated thus far (see Walther & Parks, 2002) have tended to examine how CMC
moderates such outcomes as impression formation (Hancock & Dunham, 2001;
McKenna et al., 2002; OSullivan, 2000; Tanis & Postmes, 2003), impressions of
appropriateness (Harper, 2002; Rice, 1993; Tidwell & Walther, 2002), effectiveness
(Campbell & Neer, 2001; Tidwell & Walther, 2002), accuracy or coorientation
(Kayany, Wotring, & Forrest, 1996; OSullivan, 2000), learning outcomes (Althaus,
1997; Brandon & Hollingshead, 1999; Hiltz, 1986), relationship intimacy (Parks &
Floyd, 1996; Parks & Roberts, 1998; Tidwell & Walther, 2002), task-productivity or
achievement (e.g., Burgoon et al., 2002; Hollingshead, McGrath, & OConnor, 1993),
and satisfaction (e.g., LaLomia & Sidowski, 1990). Other theories have focused more
on the social actors uses of CMC (e.g., Hunter & Allen, 1992; Markus, 1994; Perse &
Ferguson, 2000). Still others have examined various individual differences that moderate CMC uses and outcomes (e.g., Kraut et al., 2002; Mazur et al., 2000). To date,
however, there has been relatively little attempt to formulate an integrative theory of
the social actor as he or she relates to, and through, CMC (cf. Hollingshead et al.,
1993).
Borrowing from Goffmans dramaturgical perspective, Ring and colleagues
(Ring, Braginsky, & Brajinsky, 1966; Ring, Brajinsky, Levine, & Braginsky, 1967;
Ring & Wallston, 1968) suggested a dramaturgical metaphor for conceptualizing
an interactants (i.e., actors) performance quality. An actor needs to be motivated
to give a good performance. Being motivated, however, is insufficient if the actor
does not know the script which is to be enacted or the context in which the script is
to be played out. Even motivation and knowledge are still insufficient unless actors
have the acting skills requisite to translate their motivation and knowledge into
competent action. This metaphor is mirrored in older metaphors of affective, cognitive, and behavioral factors of action (Havighurst, 1957). This metaphor was later
imported as a way of organizing research on communication competence (see
Rubin, 1983; Spitzberg, 1983; Spitzberg & Cupach, 1984) and elaborated to include
the structure and expectancies comprising interaction contexts (Spitzberg & Brunner, 1991). These basic constructs, often expressed in different terminology, are
reflected in current models of CMC processes (e.g., Ramirez, Walther, Burgoon, &
Sunnafrank, 2002).
Motivation represents the energizing component of competent performance.
Negative motivation is represented by constructs such as social anxiety, apprehension, shyness, and even apathy and disinterest. Positive motivation is reflected both
by the antitheses of these constructs (e.g., confidence, comfort, communicator involvement, etc.), proactive CMC attitudes (Richter, Naumann, & Groeben, 2000), and
by motivating forces such as goals, perceived benefits, motives, gratifications, and
uses. Because motivation has both positive and negative facets, there is the possibility
of ambivalence, in which the weight of one overpowers the other. Stage fright may
disable an otherwise knowledgeable and skilled actors performance, and even
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frightened actors sometimes manage their fears through sheer determination and
skill.
Knowledge is represented primarily by cognitive characteristics reflecting such
constructs as planning, uncertainty reduction, familiarity, expertise, and other indicators of comprehension. Knowledge can be highly compartmentalized (Smith,
Caputi, Crittenden, Jayasuriya, & Rawstone, 1999; Smith, Caputi, & Rawstone,
2000) or a more general dimension of perceived ability (Potosky & Bobko, 1998).
A person may know a lot about hardware and software, yet little or nothing about
how to compose a message sensitive to status differential between sender and
receiver. Knowledge can be operationalized through such constructs as self-monitoring, planning, cognitive complexity, and experience.
Skills are the repeatable, goal-oriented behavioral tactics and routines that people
employ in the service of their motivation and knowledge. Spitzberg and Cupach
(2002) identified over 100 distinct skills in the communication competence literatures. However, they also argued that these skills probably reflect a more parsimonious
set of skill clusters and dimensions. Specifically, at the microscopic level, interpersonal
skills reduce to four basic skill clusters: attentiveness (i.e., displaying concern for,
interest in, and attention to the other person or persons in the interaction), composure
(i.e., displaying assertiveness, confidence, being in control), coordination (i.e., displaying deft management of timing, initiation and closure of conversations, topic management, etc.), and expressiveness (i.e., displaying vividness and animation in verbal
and nonverbal expression). This typology of skills has been confirmed in a variety of
measurement studies (Spitzberg, 1994b; Spitzberg, Brookeshire, & Brunner, 1990).
It is axiomatic that communication competence is contextual (Spitzberg, 2000;
Spitzberg & Cupach, 2002). However, surprisingly few studies have attempted to
specify a theory of context (cf., Argyle, Furnham, & Graham, 1981; Heise, 1979). One
of the reasons context has eluded theoretical specification is its complexity, which is
illustrated by the manifold ways in which contexts have been conceptualized. Contexts vary by cultural, chronological, relational, environmental, and functional characteristics (Spitzberg, 2000; Spitzberg & Brunner, 1991). Each of these facets affects
communication competence in complex ways, and any attempt to formulate a theory
of competence that ignores these facets is necessarily incomplete.
The motivation, knowledge, and skills model has stimulated extensive conceptual
(Spitzberg, 2000) and empirical (e.g., Spitzberg, 1990, 1991; Spitzberg & Brunner,
1991; Spitzberg & Cupach, 1984; Spitzberg & Hecht, 1984; Spitzberg & Hurt, 1987)
work. The model organizes a vast expanse of research projects that otherwise would
have no obvious connection, such as research on communication apprehension,
goals, planning, cognitive complexity, and involvement. The model has also been
extended to particular contexts such as the instructional (Spitzberg & Hurt, 1987)
and intercultural (Spitzberg, 1994c). The applicability of the model to the CMC
context, however, has only recently been examined (Bubas, 2002, 2005; Bubas &
Aurer, 1998; Bubas, Radosevic, & Hutinski, 2003; Bunz, 2002; Harper, 1999;
Morreale, Spitzberg, & Barge, 2001).
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CMC Motivation

Motivation has been investigated in various guises in relation to CMC, although


most typically it is viewed as a function of approach motives such as Internet affinity
(Bubas & Hutinski, 2003) or avoidance motives such as computer or information
anxiety (Barbeite & Weiss, 2004; Beckers & Schmidt, 2001; Chua, Chen, & Wong,
1999; Gaudron & Vignoli, 2002; Wheeless, Eddleman-Spears, Magness, & Preiss,
2005). Motivation can be indexed positively by a range of constructs such as willingness to adopt new communication technologies, satisfaction, gratifications, and
positive attitudes toward such technologies. Wright (2000) found online apprehension was unrelated to time online. Campbell and Neer (2001) found communication
apprehension and interaction involvement predicted CMC style factors of openness
and affability, although neither construct was related to perceived CMC effectiveness
and satisfaction. In another study, computer anxiety was negatively related to WWW
gratifications obtained (Tewksbury & Althaus, 2000). Mazur et al. (2000) found
communication apprehension was positively related to relational interdependence
via CMC, suggesting those who are too apprehensive to form FtF relationships
rely on CMC as a medium of relational development. Several studies suggest that
lonely or shy persons tend to seek social gratifications from CMC to compensate
for their perceived isolation or anxieties (Gross et al., 2002; Knox et al., 2001;
Morahan-Martin & Schumacher, 2000; Scharlott & Christ, 1995).
Regarding positive motivations, research shows personal benefit of CMC usage
is predictive of frequency of use and satisfaction with email (Hunter & Allen, 1992) as
well as problematic Internet uses (Caplan, 2002). Relative value of information contributed and technology-specific competence appear to increase a persons motivations to contribute to an organizational information commons (Fulk, Schmitz, &
Steinfield, 1990; Yuan et al., 2005). Extroversion, a trait disposed toward communication, moderates the impact of CMC on loneliness and depression (Kraut et al., 2002;
Mazur et al., 2000), and is positively related to amount of Internet usage (Wastlund
et al., 2001). Hacker and Steiner (2001) found comfort with Internet usage correlated
with actual usage. Approach and goal-oriented traits, such as expressive and instrumental dispositions, predict computer interest (Bozionelos, 2002), and the value of the
medium in facilitating such information needs predicts web usage (Ambra & Rice, 2001).
Utz (2000) found that whereas sociability was unrelated to relationship development
via CMC, skepticism toward CMC as a mode of relationship formation was negatively
related to relationship development through CMC. Gratifications, or benefits, sought
through web use (e.g., pastime, entertainment, relaxation, escape, excitement, companionship) predict actual web use (Perse & Ferguson, 2000), although they may also
represent the rationalized reasons for pathological use or Internet addiction (Morahan-Martin & Schumacher, 2000). Perse and Ferguson (2000) unexpectedly found
computer access was negatively related to web use, suggesting motivation is necessary
to stimulate actual utilization of CMC. However, Hacker and Steiner (2001) found
that opportunities to use the Internet correlated significantly with usage.
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Seguin-Levesque, Laliberte, Pelletier, Blanchard, and Vallerand (2003) are among


the few to have formulated a dual motivation approach to Internet motivations.
They distinguish between intrinsic motivations and extrinsic motivations. Intrinsic
motives emerge from ones own values and self-concept, leading to freely chosen
activity, which is labeled harmonious passion. Extrinsic motives emerge from participation in interesting activities that are inconsistent with self, leading to a sense of
compulsion rather than freely chosen activity. These motives belong to a cluster of
motives considered obsessive passion. Both motives were significantly correlated with
hours per week on the Internet (.30, .33, p , .01, respectively), but only obsessive
passion was positively correlated with relational conflict (r = .35, p , .01) and
negatively correlated with relational satisfaction (r = 2.30, p , .01).
Thus, although there are some obvious inconsistencies in the research record,
there seems to be a broad cluster of motivational constructs suggesting the important
role that motivation plays in predicting the use and success in using CMC technologies. CMC motivation is defined here as the ratio of approach to avoidance attitudes,
beliefs, and values in a given CMC context.
CMC Knowledge

In general, it seems reasonable to expect that the more knowledgeable a person is


with CMC, the more motivated the person will be to use CMC. Conversely, the more
motivated someone is to use CMC, the more knowledgeable the person should
become. Therefore, there is a feedback loop between these constructs, despite their
distinct conceptual boundaries. CMC self-efficacy reflects this overlap. ComputerMediated Communication self-efficacy is the belief in ones ability to use CMC effectively, although it has also been defined as an expectation of mastery (Beckers &
Schmidt, 2001). Research shows Internet self-efficacy is predictive of Internet use, email
use, and Internet experience (Eastin & LaRose, 2000; Fang, 1998; LaRose et al., 2001).
Another intersection of knowledge is with the multidimensional constructs of
familiarity, expertise, use, and literacy (LaLomia & Sidowski, 1990; Smith et al.,
1999; van den Hooff, Groot, & Jonge, 2005). As CMC technology use increases, the
more knowledge and skills should increase. Knowledge consists of both content and
procedural forms of knowledge (Greene, 1997). Content knowledge is an understanding of the what of communication: topics, rules, concepts, and so forth. Procedural
knowledge is comprehension of the how of communication; how content knowledge
can be applied. It is analogous to the difference between knowing the content of a joke
versus knowing how to tell it. CMC use and experience, therefore, represent a confluence of both content and procedural knowledge as well as skills (Smith et al., 1999). It is
not surprising, therefore, that computer use is positively related to Internet skill over
time (Kraut et al., 2002). Hunter and Allen (1992) likewise found ease of learning was
positively related to email satisfaction and usage frequency. Perse and Ferguson (2000)
found computer expertise and experience predicted web use. Markey and Wells (2002)
found that chat room experience predicted judges liking of chatroom behavior.
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Knowledge of CMC can also be obtained through the use of online informationseeking strategies (Ramirez et al., 2002). Such strategies represent a confluence of
knowledge and skills, in that goal-oriented tactics are performed to acquire knowledge that will in turn facilitate knowledge and competence. In short, there is a complex of constructs that index knowledge of CMC that is likely to be a central
component of competence in the computer-mediated domain of interaction.
CMC knowledge is defined here as the cognitive comprehension of content and procedural processes involved in conducting appropriate and effective interaction in the
computer-mediated context.
Conceptualizing CMC competence as a function of motivation and knowledge
indicates that CMC motivation provides the impetus for more skilled CMC and that
CMC knowledge provides the content and procedures for implementing these
motives. Motivation and knowledge may at times be merely summative, but they
may also interact in certain ways. That is, a person high in both may be significantly
more competent than someone only moderate or low on one or the other. As such,
these concepts lead to the following propositions:
1.

CMC motivation is positively related to CMC knowledge.


a. CMC anxiety is negatively related to CMC knowledge.
b. CMC efficacy is positively related to CMC knowledge.

2.

CMC motivation and knowledge provide unique and interactive effects in predicting CMC competence.

CMC Skills

Most theories of CMC are predicated on an assumption that media are structurally
leaner than FtF interaction, and this relative poverty constrains expression of interpersonal skills (Cerulo, 1997; Sheehy, 1995). These theories vary in the degree to which
users are expected to compensate for these constraints (Walther & Parks, 2002).
Studies also sometimes predict that features of the medium enhance or exacerbate
nonmediated interpersonal skills. For example, the triple A engine of Internet access,
anonymity, and affordability (Cooper, 2000) are expected to facilitate Internet addiction, especially cybersex addiction (Brenner, 1997; Cooper, Delmonico, & Burg, 2000;
Davis, 2001; Griffiths, 1999, 2001; McGrath & Casey, 2002; Morahan-Martin & Schumacher, 2000; Pratarelli, Browne, & Johnson, 1999; Schneider, 2000; Schwartz &
Southern, 2000; Suler, 1999). Others have speculated that the leaner and relatively
anonymous features of CMC lead to greater flaming, that is, greater expression of
aggressiveness and hostility (Castella, Abad, Alonso, & Silla, 2000; Markus, 1994;
Spears et al., 2002), even if the overall prevalence of such flaming may be relatively
low (Markus, 1994; Sheehan & Hoy, 1999). Other research suggests that fluency is
disrupted by media such as videoconferencing (Straus, Miles, & Levesque, 2001).
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If structural characteristics of the medium affect the expression of interpersonal


skills, it is less understood if such skills are directly translatable to the CMC context
(Hutchby, 2001). What is listening in regard to e-mail? What is talk time in
regard to email? Such questions suggest interpersonal skills may be transformed or
irrelevant rather than merely moderated by CMC. However, Morreale et al. (2001)
speculate that basic interpersonal skills are either directly translatable or have close
analogues in the CMC context. Attentiveness, or other-orientation, reflects the extent
to which interest, concern, and attention are shown to the other interactant(s).
Attentiveness can be displayed in CMC through a variety of tactics, including the
degree to which topics initiated by others are taken up in ones own CMC message
content, use and appropriateness of questions, social support and comforting
sophistication of message content, and politeness and appropriateness of message
content. Pratt, Wiseman, Cody, and Wendt (1999), for example, found interactants
modulated the depth of their questions over the stages of the relationship in CMC
interactions, suggesting a sensitivity to the appropriateness of interrogative strategies. Similarly, Bunz and Campbell (2004) found that responders to emails with
politeness cues responded more politely, indicating an adaptation to the sender.
CMC users also employ questions of greater depth than FtF interactants (Tidwell
& Walther, 2002, p. 331), suggesting an adaptation to the medium. Rouse and Haas
(2003) found that chatroom use of compliments correlated with observer-rated
judgments of extraversion (r = .51, p , .01) and openness to experience (r = .42,
p , .01) and conscientiousness (r = .24, p , .05).
Composure is displayed in CMC through avoiding cues of uncertainty such as
the use of linguistic qualifiers in message content, the proportion of valenced opinion expression of message content, the use of directives and imperatives relative to
inquiries or neutral language content, the use of compliance-gaining tactics, and
perhaps task or topical redirection and topic initiations. Many linguistic indicators of gender and power are likely to reflect composure as well (e.g., Herring &
Martinson, 2004). Assertiveness could also be viewed as a proxy for composure (see
Castella et al., 2000), presuming it is differentiated from aggressiveness.
Composure, which is more of a self-promotional skill, is likely to be delicately
balanced in relation to attentiveness, which is more of an other-promotional skill.
Such dialectical tensions do not necessarily represent fundamental incompatibilities
(Spitzberg, 1993, 1994a). Yet, to date, there is relatively little research directly relevant to indices of composure in CMC interaction. Rouse and Haas (2003) coded the
use of self-denigrating or self-depreciation comments in chat space (e.g., I really
suck at this game), which might be a proxy, albeit a somewhat ambivalent one, for
self-confidence. This behavior predicted judges ratings of the communicators extraversion (r = .53, p , .01) and openness to experience (r = .56, p , .01).
Coordination, or interaction management, skills can be displayed via CMC
through the deft management of the number of messages, the length of messages,
the rapidity of response to others messages, and the content and task relevance of
responses. Coordination is likely to be closely aligned with computer-email-web
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fluency (Bunz, 2004) and is similar to many of the process effects attributed to the
interactivity of media, such as navigation control, pace control, rapidity, and responsiveness (Burgoon et al., 2000; Burgoon et al., 2002; Sohn & Lee, 2005). For example,
rapidity of response predicts interpretation of affection depending on task versus
socioemotional content and time of day that messages are sent (Walther & Tidwell,
1995). Rouse and Haas (2003) study found the number of irrelevant comments
made in chat space predicted judges ratings of extraversion (r = .45, p , .01),
openness to experience (r = .35, p , .01), and conscientiousness (r = .34, p , .01).
Expressiveness skills can be displayed in CMC interactions through the use of
emoticons and similar paralinguistic features of message content, the use of humor,
and even the depth and breadth of self-disclosure (Castella et al., 2000; Whitty,
2003). For example, CMC users employ greater proportions of self-disclosure and
questions than FtF interactants (Tidwell & Walther, 2002). Emoticons apparently
attenuate the perceived hostility of mild-to-moderately antagonistic messages, but
increase the perceived hostility of highly antagonistic messages (Thompson &
Foulger, 1996). Flaming may reflect a dark side of expressiveness, as well as of
attentiveness (OSullivan & Flanagin, 2003). The use of paralanguage is correlated
to the amount of time spent engaging in MUD interactions, as well as the level of
development of online friendships (Utz, 2000). In Rouse and Haas (2003) study, the
sheer number of contributions made in chat space predicted judges ratings of
extraversion (r = .57, p , .01) and openness to experience (r = .43, p , .01). Use
of humor, another potential indicator of expressiveness, also predicted judges ratings of neuroticism (r = .37, p , .01) and extraversion (r = .36, p , .01). A converse
to expressiveness is lurking (Preece, Nonnecke, & Andrews, 2004), in which computer users enter a chat space and observe but do not participate.
In summary, it appears that skills in the nonmediated context are relatively translatable to the mediated context, allowing for certain structural constraints of the
medium. Burgoon et al. (2002; Burgoon et al., 2000) argue that these constraints
merely produce an upper boundary on the principle of interactivity, which further
suggests the functional equivalence of FtF skills to the CMC context. Direct comparisons suggest that people find the perceived quality of Internet-based interaction
lower than FtF or telephone interaction (Baym et al., 2004). Therefore, it becomes
important to identify the skills entailed in compensating for media-based constraints.
Extensive research indicates that four clusters represent a relatively comprehensive
typology of FtF interpersonal skills: attentiveness, composure, coordination, and
expressiveness (Spitzberg, 1994b; Spitzberg & Cupach, 2002).
If CMC competence, like FtF competence, is a function of attentiveness, composure, coordination, and expressiveness skills translated into the mediated context,
then the following propositions extend from the motivation, knowledge, and skills
model.
1.

CMC motivation is positively related to CMC skills (i.e., attentiveness, composure, coordination, expressiveness).

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643

2. CMC knowledge is positively related to CMC skills (i.e., attentiveness, composure, coordination, expressiveness).

CMC Context

Following the five typological facets of context identified by Spitzberg (2000;


Spitzberg & Brunner, 1991), CMC interaction is expected to vary based on cultural,
chronological, relational, environmental, and functional features. Culture consists of
patterns of behavior, attitude, belief, value, and ritual transmittable across generations. These patterns coalesce in variables of nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, and
gender, to name a few. While there has been little research on many of these comparative, intercultural, or cross-cultural foci (cf. Brosnan & Lee, 1998; Hart, 1998;
Rice, DAmbra & More, 1998; Rosen & Weil, 1995), at least one factor has stimulated
its share of research: gender.
To the extent that gender is a complex set of culturally constructed behaviors and
beliefs, it follows that gender may influence, and be influenced by, CMC (Herring,
2001). Surprisingly, research is actually mixed in relation to gender (e.g., Savicki,
Kelley, & Oesterrich, 1999; Wachter, 1999; Wolak et al., 2002). For example, Herring
and Martinson (2004) demonstrated that people do appear to have various gender
schemata for performing gender online, but that people are no better than chance at
accurately identifying the gender of online communicators. Studies have found relatively few differences by biological sex in forms of CMC usage such as amount of use
or time online (see Goodson et al., 2001; Knox et al., 2001; Kraut et al., 1998; McKenna
et al., 2002; Wastlund et al., 2001; Whitley, 1997; cf. Pew, 2000; Sussman & Tyson,
2000). However, functional applications of CMC may differ by sex. For example,
Wolak et al. (2002) found girls were slightly more likely than boys to form online
friendships and close relationships over the previous year (29 vs. 23%, 19% vs. 16%,
respectively). McKenna et al. (2002) found females perceived their Internet-formed
relationships as higher in intimacy than did males. Females appear more comfortable
in CMC with other females (Corston & Colman, 1996). Whitty (2002) found women
were more supportive and men more deceptive in chat spaces. In negotiation contexts,
males appear to form more competitive relationships with males than with females
(Thompson & Nadler, 2002). It appears that women recognize the relational value
of CMC more so than men (Pew, 2000), and are more attuned to a concern for
appropriateness in CMC message construction (Herring, 2001).
The chronological facet of context has been studied in a wide variety of ways. At
a very macro level, age and developmental changes reflect the influences of time
within the individual, as well as cohort effects over time. Thus, for example, teenagers
have been found to react to CMC usage somewhat differently from adults. Kraut
et al. (2002) found that as Internet use increased, teenagers increased their available
social support and family communication, whereas adults increased their FtF interactions with friends and family and their closeness with distant relatives. At the more
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Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 11 (2006) 629666 2006 International Communication Association

micro level, the chronological dimension of CMC is concerned with the timing and
sequencing of messages. For example, the medium selected for messages is likely to
vary based on time pressure (Bertacco & Deponte, 2005; Sitkin et al., 1992; van den
Hooff et al., 2005). Walther and Tidwell (2002) found time of day interacted with
function (task vs. socioemotional) to influence the attributions people made to email
messages. Walther, Anderson, and Park (1994) found that as the time constraint of
the CMC interaction relationship increases, task orientation of the message
exchanges tends to become more prominent, whereas more unrestricted time constraints, in which future relations are contemplated, produce more socioemotional message exchanges and attraction. Walther (1997) found that short-term
groups tended to view their communication as less intimate and less socially attractive
than long-term groups. Hollingshead et al. (1993) found that differences between FtF
and CMC tend to disappear over time as a group acclimates to the media, but these
differences can be reintroduced as changes to the media or group are introduced.
The third facet of contexts is the type of relationship among interactants. One of
the standard relational questions of CMC is whether such mediated relationships are
somehow different qualitatively from real life (RL) relationships. Peris et al. (2002,
p. 47) found that chat room users found their friendly (70.6%) or romantic cyberrelations (55.6%) just as important as face-to-face relations. A survey by McKenna
et al. (2002) found 84% of respondents reported that their online relationships were
as real, as important, and as close as their non-Internet relationships (p. 22). Indeed,
the Internet-formed relationships were as stable over a 2-year period as FtF relationships in comparable studies (McKenna et al., 2002, p. 22). Similarly, Parks and Floyd
(1996) and Parks and Roberts (1998) found typical CMC based relationships showed
consistent evidence of being above the midpoint of criteria of relationship development and intimacy. Another study found that people in both CMC and FtF relationships perceived their relationships as satisfying and as offering opportunity for
growth, but realspace respondents considered their relationships as more serious
and they expressed greater commitment (Cornwell & Lundren, 2001, p. 205). As
CMC relationships evolve over time, attributional confidence regarding online relational partners approaches greater equivalence with FtF, although CMC participants felt the setting impaired their ability to get to know their partner . more so
than did FtF interactants (Tidwell & Walther, 2002, p. 338). There is, as yet,
relatively little research on how message content changes based on relationship other
than the status of the sender relative to the recipient (Markus, 1994).
The physical environment, place, or situational facet of CMC interaction is, in
a large part, instantiated by the features of the media themselves. OSullivan (2000)
views the media of communication as a metacommunicative message in itself. That
is, the computers are a prominent feature of the physical environment, as well as the
physical constraints of the context. However, features of the media can change
in important ways. For example, Burgoon et al. (2002) found proximal mediated
contexts (i.e., interactants can see one another interacting on computers, but cannot
read each others screens while interacting) produce a greater sense of relational
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connection than nonproximal or distal mediated interactions. The geographical


reach of the medium appears to influence the selection of email as a form of
CMC (van den Hooff et al., 2005).
In the case of CMC, the aspects of the physical environment that have received the
most attention are the interactivity of the technology. Most current theories concur on
at least one central tenet, that the more interactive, rich, or adaptable a medium is, the
more it should facilitate socioemotional, personal, complex, and subtle communication processes. Simple mass communication media such as listservs, standard websites, electronic bulletin boards, and so forth, are likely to be competent for simple
information transfer. In such contexts, efficient media are likely to be preferred.
Efficiency here would reflect time and effort required to compose and send messages
relative to the number of recipients receiving the message. In contrast, messages calling
for sensitivity to individual concerns are likely to be more competently delivered
through media that better represent the breadth and depth of natural FtF interaction.
As convergence increases, it seems likely that media will increasingly be adaptable to
either mode of interaction (i.e., efficient and interactive on demand). Thus, text
messaging increasingly can be directed interactively to a single person or mass mailed
to distribution lists. Such adaptability of medium is likely to enhance the competent
communicators ability to adapt the medium to the context.
Another aspect of the physical context is geographic proximity. Some research
suggests that communication technologies are used more to compensate for geographic distance in relationships (Baym et al., 2004). Burgoon et al. (2002) found
proximal CMC forms of interaction were perceived as higher in perceived sociability,
connectedness, and task attraction.
The final contextual facet is function. Conflicts are different contexts from
get-acquainted conversations. Running a task-oriented CMC meeting is a different
context from flirting on a computer dating service chat-space (Whitty, 2003). Many
research findings are merely suggestive of such functional influences. For example,
compared to face-to-face negotiation, email reduces rapport building and
increases multi-issue offers (Thompson & Nadler, 2002, p. 116). Interactants tend
to select media in part on the basis of the function of the intended message (Kayany
et al., 1996; Markus, 1994). Research on youth indicates that over three-fourths of
their online interactions serve social functions (Baym et al., 2004). There is some
evidence of greater flaming and hostility in mediated contexts than FtF interactions
(Walther & Parks, 2002, p. 532), although this may depend in part on whether
the relationship context is in-group or out-group (Thompson & Nadler, 2002),
and the particular construction of the message (Thompson & Foulger, 1996). Finally,
people apparently feel that they can reveal their more frank, unpleasant (Pew, 2000),
or true selves (Bargh et al., 2002; McKenna et al., 2002), even if CMC tends to
be more facilitative of task-oriented interaction than FtF interactions (Walther &
Parks, 2002).
Thus far, there does not appear to be a theoretical model that would integrate all
the various functions of messages via CMC any more than there is a comparable
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model for nonmediated interactions. Nevertheless, it seems clear that interaction in


the service of different functions is likely to interact with the media of CMC in
distinct ways, and that contextual function must be accounted for in any comprehensive theory.
There are at least five contextual facets of interaction, whether CMC or FtF. As
such, it seems reasonable to extend the logic of the model thus far to propose that the
more CMC skills are adapted to these contextual facets, the more competent the
interaction will be.
1.

Media Factor Propositions:


a. Media interactivity is positively related to CMC competence for socioemotionally and relationally focused functions.
b. Media efficiency is positively related to CMC competence for informationally
focused functions.
c. Media adaptability is positively related to CMC competence.

2.

Message Factor Propositions:


a. Congruence of message content and function with personal functional objective is positively related to CMC competence.
b. Congruence of message task-orientation with contextual and media factors is
positively related to CMC competence.
c. Congruence of message openness with contextual and media factors is positively related to CMC competence.

3.

The more CMC skills are adapted or sensitive to cultural, chronemic, relational,
environmental, and functional cointeractant positive expectancies, the more
competent the CMC interaction.

Outcomes

There are many possible outcomes of interaction (e.g., Ambra & Rice, 2001). Among
the most common outcomes by which competence in CMC interaction can be
assessed are the following: coorientation (understanding, accuracy, clarity), perceptions of appropriateness and effectiveness, efficiency, task success or accomplishment, satisfaction (Harrison & Rainer, 1996; Straus et al., 2001; Westmyer,
DiCioccio, & Rubin, 1998), and relationship development (attraction, intimacy,
commitment, etc.), as well as more context-specific outcomes such as network
integration, learning, or symptom (e.g., depression, loneliness) relief (see Spitzberg,
2000; Spitzberg & Cupach, 2002).
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Coorientation refers to the degree of correspondence between a senders intentions and/or message content and the interpretations of the receiver(s). Appropriateness is the perceived legitimacy or fit of a message to the context. It is
related but not isomorphic with conformity, because an interactant may negotiate new contextual rules in the process of violating existing rules. Effectiveness
is the degree to which preferred objectives are optimized. It is related to but
not isomorphic with satisfaction because an effective choice may be relative
when there is no satisfactory response, in which case the least punishing response
may be considered effective. Satisfaction is the positive affect associated with
the fulfillment of positively valenced expectancies (Spitzberg & Hecht, 1984).
Efficiency is the relative economy with which preferred outcomes are achieved.
The less time, effort, or resources invested to achieve the same outcome, the
more efficient the process. Finally, relational development represents the degree of
breadth, depth, intimacy, closeness, commitment, and attraction achieved in a
relationship.
Generally speaking, as CMC competence increases, coorientation, appropriateness, effectiveness, satisfaction, and preferred relational outcomes are more likely to
occur. However, it is important to point out that CMC interaction is often highly
strategic, and interactants sometimes elect to communicate in strategically ambiguous ways (Bavelas, Black, Chovil, & Mullett, 1990; Eisenberg, 1984; Spitzberg,
1993), and in ways that favor efficiency over appropriateness (Bertacco & Deponte,
2005; Kellermann & Shea, 1996). People often construct or perceive that they
strategically select messages according to the medium of exchange (e.g., Bargh
et al., 2002; Kayany et al., 1996; Markus, 1994; OSullivan, 2000; Rice, 1993; Rice &
Shook, 1990; Sitkin et al., 1992). To the extent effectiveness is valued over appropriateness, self-satisfaction is more likely to increase relative to the satisfaction of
other(s) involved in the interaction. Conversely, to the extent that appropriateness
is valued over effectiveness, especially in competitive contexts, the more that selfsatisfaction is likely to diminish relative to the satisfaction of others (Spitzberg,
1993, 1994a). That is, the more exploitative ones orientation, the more it comes at
the expense of others involved. As an example, although deception via CMC does
not appear to be a preferred strategy for most interactants, neither is it uncommon
(e.g., Cornwell & Lundgren, 2001; Knox et al., 2001; Pew, 2001; Rumbough, 2001;
Whitty, 2002).
CMC users vary their media selection based on their impressions of appropriateness and effectiveness (Rice, 1993; Tidwell & Walther, 2002), and these
proximal criteria are likely to be supportive of more terminal goals and objectives.
Thus, a reasonably generalizable working typology of outcomes of CMC competence is appropriateness, effectiveness (including task achievement and efficiency),
coorientation, satisfaction, and relationship development. Generally, these outcomes should be positively related to CMC competence, yet, in any given context,
communicators may strategically sacrifice one or more outcomes for others, especially when the outcomes are perceived to be mutually incompatible.
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1.

2.
3.
4.

Competence outcomes (i.e., appropriateness, effectiveness, coorientation, satisfaction, and relational development) are positively related to one another but
not isomorphic.
CMC motivation is positively related to competence outcomes (i.e., appropriateness, effectiveness, coorientation, satisfaction, and relational development).
CMC knowledge is positively related to competence outcomes (i.e., appropriateness, effectiveness, coorientation, satisfaction, and relational development).
CMC skills (i.e., attentiveness, composure, coordination, and expressiveness) are
positively related to competence outcomes (i.e., appropriateness, effectiveness,
co-orientation, satisfaction, and relational development).

A Theory of CMC Competence

The basic elements of the theoretical model of CMC competence are visually represented in Figure 1. This model proposes that motivation represents the initial energizing process of knowledge search and application, which manifest through the
selection of skills that are applied to the selection of media and messages. Certain
motivations are better served by certain media features (e.g., a shy person may prefer
an online dating system that permits more lurking than participating) and messages
(e.g., a high status person may prefer efficiency and task-orientation of message
content). Knowledge of the most competent messages and media is searched and
selected accordingly and subsequently implemented through the skills of CMC. The
messages transmitted through the selected media are filtered through the receivers
expectations for messages in those media. Those expectancies are products of the
receivers experiences with CMC and of the receivers culture, sense of chronemics,
relationship, environment, and the anticipated function of the messages. Through

Motivation
Skills:
Attentiveness
Composure
Coordination
Expressiveness
Knowledge

Media Factors:
Interactivity
Adaptability
Efficiency
Public-private

Message Factors:
Task-orientation
SocioemotionalOrientation
Openness

Interaction
with
Coactor(s)
Valenced
Expectancies

Competence
Outcomes:
Appropriateness
Effectiveness
Coorientation
Satisfaction
Attractiveness
Efficiency

Contextual Factors:
Cultural
Chronological
Relational
Environmental
Functional

Figure 1 A model of computer-mediated communication competence.


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649

ongoing interaction, these expectancies are fulfilled, violated, or renegotiated, and


the product of the message exchange and the degree to which expectancies are
fulfilled or violated predicts the outcomes of the process for both the original sender
and the cointeractant(s).
Obviously, many of the previous propositions are predicated on prior conceptualizations of interpersonal competence (see Spitzberg, 1994c, 2000; Spitzberg &
Brunner, 1991; Spitzberg & Cupach, 1984, 2002), although other models have demonstrated the relevance of similar constructs (e.g., Levine & Donitsa-Schmidt, 1998).
To this point, the components of the CMC competence model have been conceptualized largely from an individual differences perspective, but in keeping with the
reasoning of summative, compensatory, and interactive effects (Spitzberg & Cupach,
1984), it is assumed that, in general, competent interactants can facilitate the competence of cointeractants. While the reverse may be true (i.e., an incompetent interactant can diminish a normally competent cointeractants performance), part of
the benefit of competence is the ability to compensate for the incompetence of
other(s).
One of the component relationships only alluded to thus far is the issue of
congruence. Specifically, Spitzberg and Brunner (1991) predict a valence reversal
of competence impressions. When positive expectancies are fulfilled, outcomes are
generally positive. When negative expectancies are fulfilled, outcomes are generally
negative. These commonsense predictions anticipate main effects for congruence. In
contrast, if interactants expect negative outcomes, the most competent response is to
violate those expectancies appropriately. Conversely, violation of positive expectancies is likely to produce unpleasant or dispreferred outcomes. These predictions
anticipate interaction effects between the valence of expectancy and the valence of
response. Contrary to the interaction effects, a recent experiment found that positively valenced email responses were viewed as more competent regardless of the
valence of expectancy (Ladwig & Spitzberg, 2005). If replicated, such findings will
call for the modification of the expectancies components of the theory, although
there is sufficient evidence for the role of expectancies in FtF interaction to retain
their theoretical role until further research can be conducted. The other propositions
follow from the original model of communication competence or from integration
of prior CMC research with the model.

1.
2.
3.
4.

650

Congruence of CMC messages with prior positively valenced (contextual, message, and media) expectancies is positively related to competence outcomes.
Incongruence of CMC messages with prior negatively valenced (contextual,
message, and media) expectancies is positively related to competence outcomes.
Congruence of CMC messages with prior negatively valenced (contextual, message, and media) expectancies is negatively related to competence outcomes.
Incongruence of CMC messages with prior positively valenced (contextual,
message, and media) expectancies is negatively related to competence outcomes.
Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 11 (2006) 629666 2006 International Communication Association

5.
6.

7.

As interactants (i.e., senders) CMC competence increases, cointeractants (i.e.,


receivers) CMC competence increases.
As interactant (i.e., sender) pursues outcomes that preference personal effectiveness, coorientation, or satisfaction over appropriateness, the lower cointeractants (i.e., receiver) perceptions of senders CMC competence, and the lower
receivers outcomes.
As mutual CMC motivation, knowledge, and skills increase, mutual relationship
development increases.

Preliminary Measure and Test

Measurement development efforts in the CMC context are evolving rapidly (e.g.,
Ambra & Rice, 2001; Caplan, 2002; Gaudron & Vignoli, 2002; Richter et al., 2000).
Research on the CMC competence model is nascent. An a priori measure was developed on the basis of the model in Figure 1 and subsequently revised on several
occasions. The original measure was used in a study by Harper (1999). Unfortunately, the data were not analyzed in a manner conducive to drawing conclusions
regarding the measures reliability or validity. Research was subsequently collected
and analyzed in projects by Bubas (2002, 2005), Bunz (2002, 2003), and Van Slooten
and Spitzberg (2002). Although the preliminary measure generally revealed promise,
at least two important problems reoccurred across these studies. First, the negatively
worded items in the subscales of the measure tended to attenuate the reliability of the
scales, especially those scales with few items. Second, the various items designed to
measure context, message, and media factors were not as multidimensionally complex as originally anticipated. As a result of these findings, the measure was significantly simplified with the objective of increasing the reliability and parsimony of the
overall measure. Measures of related constructs are already available (e.g., Burgoon
et al., 2002; Parks & Roberts, 1998). The current measure is at present being prepared
for data collection. Preliminary results from a study of an online version in Croatia
indicate that when all items are factor-analyzed, four reliable factors emerge that
roughly parallel motivation, knowledge, skills, and outcomes (Bubas et al., 2003).
Conclusion

The potential applications of a model and measure of CMC competence are manifold. For example, it seems reasonable to expect that as CMC competence increases,
loneliness, depression, and computer-based stresses and hassles will decrease. Given
that CMC competence is correlated with use and experience, it may in fact be
positively related to overall risk of cyberstalking victimization (Finkelhor, Mitchell,
& Wolak, 2000; Spitzberg & Hoobler, 2002; cf. Wolak et al., 2002), but holding such
opportunity costs constant, it seems reasonable to expect that more competent CMC
users would be less likely to be victimized than less competent users. As a screening
Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 11 (2006) 629666 2006 International Communication Association

651

device, a model and measure of CMC competence may be useful in diagnosing those
in greater need of earlier intervention in schools and organizations. As the digital
divide dilates or dissolves, it becomes increasingly important to understand the
factors that enhance users abilities to navigate and negotiate the divides turbulent
currents.
In proposing this theory of CMC competence, I have suggested its nature, function, and scope, as well as its research implications. The theory does not have a primary
motivational metaphor, such as the naive scientist (attribution theory), investor (social
exchange theory), information processor (uncertainty reduction theory), comparator
(sociometer theory), and so on. Instead, motivation, knowledge, skills, context, and
outcomes serve as metaphorical vessels into which prior and future research can be
functionally ensconced. At some level, it is presumed that there are real, reducible
parallels that serve as the substance of motivation, the substance of knowledge, and the
substance of skills, which are moderated by real contextual factors in their influence on
real outcomes. Collectively, the CMC theory is ontologically consistent with both
traditional causal and teleological systems perspectives.
Another presumption of the model is that FtF and CMC interaction are more
similar than they are different. Both can be explained by the same general model
components, and, in most cases, the components of this model require only minor
adaptation to the particular technological features of the context. As such, the
parameters of the model are that it is proposed presently for all mediated interpersonal types of communication (thereby excluding traditional mass communication
types of contexts in which relatively singular messages are distributed to large,
relatively undifferentiated groups of individuals). The primary value of the model
is in outlining a heuristic schema for reorganizing much disparate literature into
a semantic model that can generate coherent hypotheses.
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About the Author

Brian H. Spitzberg is a Professor in the School of Communication, San Diego


State University. His research examines the assessment and conceptualization of
interpersonal communication skills, as well as topics on the dark side of communication such as jealousy, coercion, violence, stalking, and cyberstalking.
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Address: School of Communication, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA,
92182-4561 USA

Appendix 1. CMC Competence measure (version 5)

CMC COMPETENCE (Spitzberg, 2005, V.5)


Instructions: We are interested in how people use various computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies for conversing with others. For the purpose of this
questionnaire, please consider CMC to include all forms of e-mail and computerbased networks (e.g., instant messaging, world-wide-web, chat rooms, personal data
assistant, electronic bulletin boards, terminal-based video-telephony, etc.) for sending and receiving written messages with other people. For this survey, indicate the
degree to which each statement regarding your use of various CMC media is true or
untrue of you, using the following scale:
1
2
3
4
5

=
=
=
=
=

NOT AT ALL TRUE OF ME


MOSTLY NOT TRUE OF ME
NEITHER TRUE NOR UNTRUE OF ME; UNDECIDED
MOSTLY TRUE OF ME
VERY TRUE OF ME

MOTIVATION
01. I enjoy communicating using computer media.
02. I am nervous about using the computer to communicate with others. [R]
03. I am very motivated to use computers to communicate with others.
04. I look forward to sitting down at my computer to write to others.
05. Communicating through a computer makes me anxious. [R]
KNOWLEDGE
06. I am very knowledgeable about how to communicate through computers.
07. I am never at a loss for something to say in CMC.
08. I am very familiar with how to communicate through email and the internet.
09. I always seem to know how to say things the way I mean them using CMC.
10. When communicating with someone through a computer, I know how to
adapt my messages to the medium.
EFFICACY
11. I dont feel very competent in learning and using communication media
technology.
12. I feel completely capable of using almost all currently available CMCs.
13. I am confident I will learn how to use any new CMCs that are due to come
out.
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14. Im nervous when I have to learn how to use a new communication


technology.
15. I find changes in technologies very frustrating.
16. I quickly figure out how to use new CMC technologies.
17. I know I can learn to use new CMC technologies when they come out.
18. If a CMC isnt user friendly, Im likely not to use it.
SKILLS
COORDINATION
19. I know when and how to close down a topic of conversation in CMC dialogues.
20. I manage the give and take of CMC interactions skillfully.
21. I am skilled at timing when I send my responses to people who email me.
22. I am skilled at prioritizing (triaging) my email traffic.
ATTENTIVENESS
23. I ask questions of the other person in my CMC.
24. I show concern for and interest in the person Im conversing with in CMC.
25. I can show compassion and empathy through the way I write emails.
26. I take time to make sure my emails to others are uniquely adapted to the
particular receiver Im sending it to.
EXPRESSIVENESS
27. I am very articulate and vivid in my CMC messages.
28. I use a lot of the expressive symbols [e.g., for smile] in my CMC messages.
29. I try to use a lot of humor in my CMC messages.
30. I am expressive in my CMC conversations.
COMPOSURE
31. I display a lot of certainty in the way I write my CMC messages.
32. I use an assertive style in my CMC writing.
33. I have no trouble expressing my opinions forcefully on CMC.
34. I make sure my objectives are emphasized in my CMC messages.
35. My CMC messages are written in a confident style.
36. I am skillful at revealing composure and self-confidence in my CMC interactions.
SELECTIVITY
I choose which medium (i.e., computer, phone, face-to-face, etc.) to communicate based on . . .
37. how quickly I need to get a message out to people.
38. how much benefit there would be to having the other(s) present face-toface.
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39. how lively the interaction needs to be.


40. how much access the person I need to communicate with has to the
medium.
41. how much information is involved in the message I need to communicate.
42. how much access I have to the channel or medium.
43. how long I need people to hang on to or remember the message.
44. how many different uses and forms are needed (e.g., hardcopy, image
processing, voicemail, computer language, etc.)
45. how personal or intimate the information in the message is.
46. how quickly the receiver needs to react to the message.
47. the extent to which I need to get some back and forth, give and take,
and interchange of ideas.
48. the extent to which I need some creative brainstorming.
APPROPRIATENESS
49. I avoid saying things through that might offend someone.
50. I pay as much attention to the WAY I say things as WHAT I say.
51. I never say things that offend the other person.
52. I am careful to make my comments and behaviors appropriate to the situation.
EFFECTIVENESS
53. I generally get what I want out of interactions.
54. I consistently achieve my goals in interactions.
55. My interactions are effective in accomplishing what I set out to accomplish.
56. I am effective in my conversations with others.
CLARITY
57. I get my ideas across clearly in conversations with others.
58. My comments are consistently accurate and clear.
59. My messages are rarely misunderstood.
60. I feel understood when I interact with others.
SATISFACTION
61. I am generally satisfied with my communication encounters.
62. I enjoy my interactions with others.
63. I feel good about my conversations.
64. I am generally pleased with my interactions.
ATTRACTIVENESS
65. If I can engage someone in conversation, I can usually get them to like me.
66. I come across in conversation as someone people would like to get to know.
67. I make friends easily.
68. People generally enjoy my company when interacting with me.
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EFFICIENCY/PRODUCTIVITY
69. I get a tremendous amount accomplished through CMC.
70. My CMC interactions are more productive than my face-to-face interactions.
71. I am more efficient using CMC than other forms of communication.
72. CMC technologies are tremendous time-savers for my work.
GENERAL USAGE/EXPERIENCE
73. I rely heavily upon my CMCs for getting me through each day.
74. I use computer-mediated means of communication almost constantly.
75. I can rarely go a week without any CMC interactions.
76. I am a heavy user of computer-mediated communication.
77. If I can use a computer for communicating, I tend to.

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