The microdynamics of social regulation: Comparing the navigation of disagreements in text-based online and face-to-face discussions

Carla A. Roos*, Tom Postmes, Namkje Koudenburg

*Corresponding author for this work

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9 Citations (Scopus)
102 Downloads (Pure)


This study explores how people navigate the field of tension between expressing disagreement and maintaining social relationships in text-based online as compared to face-to-face discussions. In face-to-face discussions, differences of opinion are socially regulated by introducing ambiguity in message content coupled with instant responding on a relational level. We hypothesized that online messages are less ambiguous and less responsive, both of which may hinder social regulation. Thirty-six groups of three unacquainted students discussed politically controversial statements via chat, video-chat (nonanonymous), and face-to-face, in a multilevel repeated measures Graeco-Latin square design. Content coding revealed that online discussions were relatively clear and unresponsive. This related to participants experiencing reduced conversational flow, less shared cognition, and less solidarity online. These results suggest that ambiguity and responsiveness enable people to maintain social relationships in the face of disagreement. This emphasizes the key role that subtle microdynamics in interpersonal interaction play in social regulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)902-917
Number of pages16
JournalGroup Processes & Intergroup Relations
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Sept-2020


  • ambiguity
  • conversations
  • disagreement
  • flow
  • responsiveness
  • shared cognition
  • social media
  • social regulation
  • solidarity
  • Polarize or Change

    Namkje Koudenburg (Organiser), Carla Roos (Organiser), Yoshihisa Kashima (Contributor), Laura G. E. Smith (Contributor) & Ana-Maria Bliuc (Contributor)


    Activity: Organising and attending an event Organising and contributing to an event Academic

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