My research focuses on the social consequences of online communication technologies, social media, and digital media. Specifically, I investigate the specific design characteristics that define communication technologies. These design characteristics, of affordances, in turn affect how people experience these technologies, how they use them, and how they are affected by them.
The specific topics I study are (a) how social media affect communication in professional settings, (b) how influencers present themselves on social media and how this affects their followers’ attitudes and behaviors, (c) the effect of visual versus textual information in online dating profiles, (d) how virtual & augmented reality may change interpersonal communication, and (e) the consequences of online interaction for social development.
Online professional communication
I study how employees use social media in their daily work and how social media affect how employees present themselves and work together online. For example, we study how to motivate employees to engage in online employee ambassadorship, how social media may affect organizational identification and commitment, and how employers form impressions of job candidates based on online information.
Social media influencers
Social media influencers have a huge impact on the attitudes and behaviors of their followers. In our research, we try to investigate the underlying processes that explain how influencers affects their followers’ attitudes and behavior, such as their popularity, and similarity to and identification with the influencers. We also investigate the effects influencers may have on their followers’ self-esteem, healthy behavior, and well-being. Does being confronted with picture-perfect and successful influencers affect people’s self-esteem? And can we put influencers to good use and use their influence to stimulate healthy behavior?
Online dating is extremely popular. At least 60% of singles have tried or are currently online dating, and estimates are that 20% of current couples have met online. In this project, we study how people form impressions of each other’s attractiveness on online dating sites. Amongst others, we study Tinder profiles and what makes people decide to swipe left or right, how people determine if they find someone attractive based on the information available on an online dating profile, and the best way to start a conversation once a match is established. In a recent project, we focus on the textual elements of dating sites, and see how language use affects people’s perception of others.
Virtual & augmented reality
In previous research, we investigated how online virtual environments and avatar-based interaction may encourage team cooperation. Virtual and augmented reality now increasingly creep into our private lives as well. In future research, we would like to investigate how these advanced technologies may affect interpersonal interaction. Imagine that smart glasses allow you to observe how attractive someone finds you, and give you tips to adjust your behavior accordingly. Or that students’ attention levels in class are relayed to your senses. In the future, we will integrate more extra-sensory and online information in our daily interactions. Research is still in its infancy, but we now started by investigating the role of heartbeat in interpersonal interaction.
Online social development
Starting with my PhD research, I have continuously investigated the effects of online communication on social development. Specifically, I focused on the effects of online self-presentation and online self-disclosure on adolescents’ social development. In contrast to popular thought, it turns out that effects are positive though small. For most people, online communication is beneficial. For example, for adolescents it is sometimes easier and safer to express themselves online than offline, social media may stimulate social capital development, and adolescents use social media to develop their identity, all with positive consequences for social development. However, new developments in social media use require new research. Online and offline interaction increasingly overlap, leading to us spending ever more time using social media in our daily lives and less time spent offline with friends. The emphasis on physical appearance of visual applications such as Instagram and Snapchat may affect adolescents’ self-esteem and well-being. Information we put online remains online and may be used & abused by others. These and other issues require further investigation into the use and effects of modern social media applications.