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Effects of Representational Similarity on Deindividuation and Conformity to Group Norms in Computer-Mediated Communication
Unformatted Document Text:  5 attention from individual differences, thereby depersonalizing perception and rendering the relevant group identity more salient and influential (Reicher et al., 1995). Among other “input” variables presumably conducive to creating a deindividuation state, such as arousal, sensory input overload, and novelty of the situation (Zimbardo, 1969), SIDE researchers have focused on anonymity as a cause of deindividuation. To manipulate anonymity in the computer-mediated environment, they had participants co-present in the same room allowing visual contact or separated them from each other (Spears et al., 1990). In more recent studies, anonymity was varied by displaying portrait pictures of participants on the computer screen during discussion or simply identifying each participant by a personal code only in a text- based communication setting (e.g., Postmes et al., 2001, Lea, Spears, & De Groot, 2001). Although there is no question that visual anonymity would contribute to depersonalizing communication partners by eliminating all visible individuating cues, the operationalization of anonymity appears to confound two conceptually distinct factors – identifiability and similarity in presentation: The text-only condition not only lacks visual identity cues manifesting individual differences, but presents all participants in the absolutely identical form, which possibly promotes the perception of similarity amongst themselves. Thus, the previous findings that anonymity enhanced conformity to group norms might be in part attributable to the standardized presentation of group members and the resulting perception of similarity rather than to anonymity per se. To separate the effect of anonymity from that of presentational similarity, the present study systematically varied visual representation only, while holding anonymity constant. First, in line with the SIDE model, individuation was defined as heightened awareness of differences between interaction partners (i.e., individuality) and measured in terms of differential attributions to each individual of personal characteristics, such as social attractiveness and trustworthiness. Second, among various means of rendering individuality salient, revealing more personal information (e.g., portrait pictures) being one of them, we varied visual representation of individuals on the computer screen: Participants remained completely anonymous throughout

Authors: Lee, Eun-Ju.
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attention from individual differences, thereby depersonalizing perception and rendering the
relevant group identity more salient and influential (Reicher et al., 1995).
Among other “input” variables presumably conducive to creating a deindividuation state,
such as arousal, sensory input overload, and novelty of the situation (Zimbardo, 1969), SIDE
researchers have focused on anonymity as a cause of deindividuation. To manipulate anonymity
in the computer-mediated environment, they had participants co-present in the same room
allowing visual contact or separated them from each other (Spears et al., 1990). In more recent
studies, anonymity was varied by displaying portrait pictures of participants on the computer
screen during discussion or simply identifying each participant by a personal code only in a text-
based communication setting (e.g., Postmes et al., 2001, Lea, Spears, & De Groot, 2001).
Although there is no question that visual anonymity would contribute to depersonalizing
communication partners by eliminating all visible individuating cues, the operationalization of
anonymity appears to confound two conceptually distinct factors – identifiability and similarity in
presentation: The text-only condition not only lacks visual identity cues manifesting individual
differences, but presents all participants in the absolutely identical form, which possibly promotes
the perception of similarity amongst themselves. Thus, the previous findings that anonymity
enhanced conformity to group norms might be in part attributable to the standardized presentation
of group members and the resulting perception of similarity rather than to anonymity per se.
To separate the effect of anonymity from that of presentational similarity, the present
study systematically varied visual representation only, while holding anonymity constant. First, in
line with the SIDE model, individuation was defined as heightened awareness of differences
between interaction partners (i.e., individuality) and measured in terms of differential attributions
to each individual of personal characteristics, such as social attractiveness and trustworthiness.
Second, among various means of rendering individuality salient, revealing more personal
information (e.g., portrait pictures) being one of them, we varied visual representation of
individuals on the computer screen: Participants remained completely anonymous throughout


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