Research

Technology-Mediated Social Participation

Recent years have seen a substantial growth in the scale and scope of structured environments for mass collaboration and sharing, otherwise known as technology-mediated social participation (TMSP) systems. TMSP systems involve the application of social networking, blogs, user-generated content sites, discussion groups, recommendation systems, and other social media to collectively address issues of social concern. Through our work on online collaboration systems (Antin et al. 2011, Antin, Cheshire and Nov 2012, Antin and Cheshire 2010, Narayan and Cheshire 2010), we are building a better understanding of how social participation changes over time as a result of systems design, socio-technical structure and human agency. My work in this area extends the long history of social scientific theories and empirical research on collective behavior, motivation, and community participation in both laboratory and real-world environments.

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Social Psychological Selective Incentives and the Emergence of Generalized Information Exchange

Social psychological incentives are important for encouraging pro-social behaviors such as information sharing and online generosity. This line of work includes investigations of methodological issues of recruiting participants (Fiore et al. 2014), and the substantive issues of online information sharing behaviors in potentially risky online situations, including seeking online health information. My research in this area tests specific theoretical hypotheses derived from social psychological and sociological theory. For example, Cheshire and Antin (2010) demonstrates that predispositions to engage in socially risky situations are a critical element of individual decisions to contribute to online information sharing systems or not. Our research shows that individuals who are less cautious of others in general tend to contribute significantly more in an online information sharing system than those who are more cautious of others. But the most surprising and important result from this research is that one’s pre-existing disposition to be cautious moderates the effect of group affiliation: less cautious individuals socially loaf (do less work in a group) when they are given an explicit group affiliation, but group affiliations do not affect highly cautious individuals in any measurable way. The results of my work helps us understand who among us is actually doing all the work when we contribute information to shared repositories and online services.

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Trust-Building and Cooperation in Online Settings

When people rely on the web to gather and distribute information they can build a sense of trust in the websites with which they interact. Understanding the correlates of trust in most websites (general website trust) and trust in websites that one frequently visits (familiar website trust) is crucial for constructing better models of risk perception and online behavior (Cook, et al 2009). My scientific work in this area has a variety of implications for online behavior (and website policies) -- such as helping users make informed decisions about potentially risky websites. My work on online trust explores issues of interpersonal trust-building (Cook et al. 2005, Kiyonari et al. 2006), the application of experimental findings to online interactions (Cheshire 2011), and predictors of website trust and human-system interaction in the presence of risk and uncertainty (Cheshire et al. 2010, Cheshire 2011).

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Online Interpersonal Relationships

Online relationships in computer-mediated environments often begin by using limited communication channels and later transition to other forms of mediated communication, and sometimes face-to-face interaction. My scientific research examines how initial impressions formed through internet chat, email, and other forms of communication can affect later impressions of the same (or different) individuals. In one of our core projects, we challenge established theory in social psychology in light of our own experimental and longitudinal survey data on online matching and dating behaviors (Taylor et al. 2011). We test the idea that individuals select others who are similar to them in attractiveness. Prior research in social psychology has taken this notion for granted based on decades-old studies of similarities between existing couples, but ours is the first study to actually test behavioral matching as it occurs during the communication and coordination process. Our other findings (see: Taylor et al. 2010, Fiore et al 2010, Fiore and Cheshire 2010) examine the various factors that can lead to online relationship formation and dissolution-- including issues of trust, perceptions of self-worth, and other personality characteristics.

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Social Exchange and Online Sharing Economies

Social exchange is a fundamental part of human experience. We engage in numerous exchanges in our lives, including goods, services, information -- even affect, attention and love (Cook and Cheshire 2013). This line of scientific research relates to the interactions that individuals have with others, as mediated through information technologies (Lampinen et al. 2013, Suihonen et al 2010). What sets my research on social exchange apart from earlier social psychological work is that we are able to look at behavioral changes that stem from shifts in the mode of exchange, controlling for prior experience in the initial form of exchange. In addition, we are able to examine the effects of human agency and influence when individuals are given the ability to choose the form of exchange with their partners. One of the most important findings (see: Cheshire et al. 2010) is that the form of social exchange can account for an increase or decrease in interpersonal trust, controlling for the behavior of one’s interaction partner. That is, the structure of our social relationships (binding agreements, non-binding negotiations, and unregulated reciprocity) has an independent effect on the amount of trust that we build with others. Thus, we can leverage this knowledge to build more (or less) trusting online social interaction environments.

Selected publications from this project: