Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Investigation of the Relationships among Socially Interactive Technologies, Communication Competence, Social Cognition, and Formal Written Discourse

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Melissa Spirek (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Stephen Croucher (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Thomas Mascaro (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Ronald Shields (Committee Member)


The current research project called upon a two-study design to examine college students' use of socially interactive technologies (instant messaging programs, online social networking websites, blogs, and text messaging applications on cell phones). The first study was implemented to examine the frequency and form of college students' use of socially interactive technologies. The second study investigated whether the informal interactive written discourse typical of socially interactive technologies is permeating college students' more formal writing. Using this two-study design, college students' responses from a media use questionnaire were collected for Study I and examined in tandem with results from a quantitative content analysis of two formal messages written by students during an experimental computer laboratory session for Study II. The current investigation was couched in a framework based on the communication competence and social cognition literatures. These disparate fields were called upon together within an ecological schema provided by the theory of affordances to focus on the ways internal and external factors might contribute to communication outcomes in formal writing situations.

The first study's results revealed that socially interactive technologies are generally popular among the college students in the current sample. Results from Study I also revealed that among the students in this sample, college grade point average and levels of need for cognition were negatively related to the frequency with which students use certain interactive media. The second study's results revealed that frequent use of socially interactive technologies in general, and certain formats in particular (text messaging and instant messaging), was consistently associated with the use of particularly informal written communication techniques. Specifically, problems with formatting as well as the inclusion of a nonstandard orthography and grammatical mistakes were all significantly related to frequent use of socially interactive technologies among the students in the current sample. Study II also revealed that multitasking on the computer while writing the two formal messages was significantly related to problems with formatting as well as the inclusion of grammatical mistakes in the two formal documents.

The consistent relationships among socially interactive technology use and decreased communication competence in two formal writing situations suggest that further concerted attention from communication researchers regarding the possible relationships between socially interactive technology use and formal written discourse is warranted.