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There are a lot of articles out there about the dangers of internet and some of them talk about the fact that online interactions are nothing compared to face to face conversation. Those sort of articles often say that online conversations can't fulfill the emotional needs you have and that people should talk to their friends in the "real world".

Recently, I was reading those article and saying to myself: "if they say so, it might be true". However, I now have a really dear online friend with whom I talk every day online and I'm wondering "is this really true?".

So, is there any serious research comparing a deep online friendship (with instantaneous one on one messaging) vs a "face to face" one? And some explanation as to why an online conversation isn't as fulfilling as a face to face one?

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    There are so many modalities of online interaction — are you interested in a specific one, like video chat, email, forums, text-only chat, text plus emojis and gifs and photo-sharing, etc. or more of a comparison of all different kinds with face-to-face? – Euchris Jan 14 at 15:12
  • @Euchris I think a comparison of all would be too broad. So it's more about instantaneous, one on one, messaging – Ælis Jan 14 at 15:16
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    This is asking about research regarding interpersonal relationships, not about an actual interpersonal skill – Meg Jan 14 at 15:44
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    @Meg Asking for research is on-topic here. The tag "academic-research" was created just for that (and have six unclosed questions). However, the fact that I'm asking about an interpersonal relationship and not an actual interpersonal skill is a good point to consider – Ælis Jan 14 at 16:25
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    @Meg Maybe we should open a meta question? I have no idea if it's on-topic either. Given the stack name, I would say it's off-topic, but maybe it is? (I have asked for migration to another stack anyway, but I would still curious to know if it's on-topic or not) – Ælis Jan 14 at 18:39
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Here's a short annotated bibliography,* with the caveat that it represents a skim, cull, and summary of just a few dozen abstracts in fields I don't know much about. I offer it more as a series of leads to follow than a complete answer in itself. For example, it might be helpful to see that the literature seems to compare these using the terms "FtF" and "CMC" (computer-mediated communication).

Another caveat is that, as Meg pointed out in a comment, this might be a better Psych SE question than IPS. And of course quantitative research will never invalidate your personal experience :)

  • Okdie et al., 2011: People formed more positive impressions of each other in face-to-face interactions.

  • Rouhshad et al., 2016: Students preferred face-to-face tutoring because it's a "highly pastoral activity. To make online tuition succesful both tutors and students need training in how to communicate online in the absence of paralinguistic cues."

  • Sprecher & Hampton, 2017: People liked people they met face-to-face more, but it was easy to catch up after switching from computer-only to face-to-face.

  • Pierce, 2009: Teens who talked online felt more comfortable and made more friends, but also experienced more social anxiety when talking face-to-face; the effect was stronger for girls.

  • Baek et al., 2012: Online "deliberation" generated more negative emotions (among other things).

  • Pea et al., 2012: Preteen girls experienced more negative emotions with more media, whether social or not, but more positive emotions with face-to-face interactions.

  • Wagner et al., 2014: Online and face-to-face intervention were equally good at treating depressive symptoms, but the symptoms recurred more intensely after face-to-face dropoff than after online dropoff.

  • Calbring et al. (2017): A meta-study on using CBT to treat perfectionism found no significant difference between the results of face-to-face and online therapy. (Individual studies such as Egan et al., 2014 found better results for face-to-face.)

  • Knop et al., 2016: People do more self-disclosure in offline groups (despite interacting less overall), but regard this self-disclosure less positively.


* I didn't want to make an unscrollably long answer, so these are short citations and links; if you can't access them and want abstracts, let me know and I'll paste them in.

  • I like your answer and, if it's isn't too much trouble I would love an "unscrollably long answer" :p (particularly for the "Wagner et al., 2014" study). Also, your links aren't clickable, would it be possible to fix them? – Ælis Jan 15 at 9:55
  • I do wonder about findings like online deliberations generating more negative emptions. Is there a way to differentiate between the online component being an emotinal detractor, or rather a way to be more honest about negative feelings because it offers a layer of separation? – Flater Jan 15 at 12:42

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