Seeing through the screen, are interpersonal judgements more accurate in a face-to-face or computer-mediated context?

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Hebert, Brenda G.
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In view of the many computer-mediated communication technologies currently available to people, it is important to understand how using these technologies affects interpersonal judgements. Pairs of previously unacquainted students participated in the present study. One pair member was assigned to the role of target and one pair member was assigned to the role of judge. Judges communicated their evaluation of an essay written by the target in a face-to-face or computer-mediated context using electronic mail. The key question was whether targets' understanding of the judges' evaluation (i.e., meta-accuracy) would be affected by communication mode. The primary hypothesis that information about liking would be most clearly communicated through face-to-face feedback, while information about task performance would be most clearly conveyed through computer-mediated feedback, was not supported. Neither communication mode emerged as clearly better in terms of accuracy based on mean directional differences. However, in terms of absolute discrepancies between ratings of judges and t rgets, a marginal interaction occurred whereby meta-accuracy for task-relevant information was greater in the face-to-face context, while meta-accuracy for relational information was greater in the electronic mail context. The feedback delivered by judges varied in that its clarity was greater for task performance than it was for liking. Overall, judges viewed targets more positively in the face-to-face condition relative to electronic mail, liking targets more and considering them to be more skilled. On balance, the study suggests that the face-to-face communication of feedback results in more positive assessments of both skills and liking by both parties, and more accurate metaperceptions of task-relevant information compared to electronic mail.