Gerald A. Mendelsohn
Professor Emeritus
Ph.D., University of Michigan
Research Area: 
Research Interests: 
Personality; causal attribution and interpersonal attraction; individual differences in purposive behavior; computer mediated communication
  • whatshotResearch Description

    Recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award

    I have two interrelated sets of interests. The first concerns processes of causal attribution, particularly as they are related to interpersonal attraction. The studies underway in this area have been conducted in a naturalistic setting and have examined both self-judgments and judgment's of others. Given recent developments in the literature, examining effects of cultural variations on the relationships between attribution and attraction is an important next step.

    My second interest, how social interactions are affected by the medium of communication, grew directly out of the work on attribution and attraction. There has been a great deal written about the characteristics of social interaction in cyberspace, but most of it has been speculative or anecdotal. We have begun a series of systematic, controlled experimental studies designed to examine how various interpersonal processes are affected by variations in the medium of communication. The basic design of these studies will entail the replication across media(face-to-face, telphonic, and computer-mediated) of an interactive situation, like an initial meeting of participants, an ultimatum game, or a leaderless group discussion. The interpersonal processes to be studied will depend in part on the nature of the situation. For example, in an initial meeting, questions of impression formation, self presentation and interpersonal attraction will be the focus, whereas in game-playing, competitiveness and trust are more salient variables. We expect that variations among the media in the number and variety of communication channels, self-awareness, opportunities for self-regulation , and interactive norms will lead to predictable differences in social processes and outcomes. Our objective is to link these studies to areas in Social Psychology that have a well-developed literature, (e.g., persuasion, interpersonal attraction, causal attribution, conformity).

    In addition to identifying differences due to the medium of communication, we will examine as well effects of individual differences. It has frequently been argued that computer-mediated communication reduces the influence of personality, gender and role differences on social interactions. It is reasonable to assume, for example, that shy persons will be less inhibited on a chat line than in a face-to-face conversation. There is not as yet much relevant research, but the basic design outlined above provides the opportunity for examining the interaction between individual differences and communication medium. Four personality variables will be of particular interest to us, namely extroversion-introversion, dominance, cooperativeness and agreeableness. We will investigate both how these traits are related to interpersonal processes and outcomes and how they manifest behaviorally in different communication media.

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