Attempts to encourage diplomacy in online interactions: three informative failures



Online discussions about controversial topics seem more prone to misunderstanding and even polarization than similar discussions held face-to-face. Recent research uncovered an important reason why: certain behaviors that are used to communicate diplomacy and tact in face-to-face discussions – specifically, responsiveness and ambiguity – are more difficult to enact online. To improve online interaction experiences and understand the underlying mechanisms better, we ran three exploratory studies in which we tried to manipulate these diplomatic behaviors in online and face-to-face conversations. Study 1 and 2 aimed to increase ambiguity and responsiveness in online environments to test whether it would result in increased experiences of solidarity. To this end, Study 1 (N = 68, repeated measures) compared a regular chat function with a chat function in which interaction partners saw each other’s typing in real time. In Study 2 (N = 74, repeated measures), we introduced a keyboard that allowed participants to make interjecting sounds alongside text-based communication. In contrast, Study 3 (N = 105, repeated measures) aimed to reduce responsiveness and ambiguity in face-to-face discussion to test whether this would hamper participants’ ability to navigate disagreements while maintaining solidarity. We asked participants about their conversational experiences both quantitatively and qualitatively in all studies. In none of the studies, we found the expected effects. The qualitative analyses of participant’s behavior and commentary gave some insights into the reasons. Participants compensated for and/or distanced themselves from the manipulations. These behavioral adaptations all seemed to be socially motivated. We conclude by offering recommendations for research into online polarization.
Date made available14-Apr-2022

Cite this