One primary difference between the current study and previous tests of the modality switching perspective is that prior research ( e.g., Ramirez & Wang, 2008; Ramirez & Zhang, 2007) was able to experimentally manipulate the timing of the switch. In the present study, it is unfeasible to ask partners to meet FtF at a designated point in time not of their choosing. Bridging the short-term/long-term dichotomy enables a greater understanding of the association between the length of online communication before FtF interaction, and relational communication indicators upon meeting FtFbining the short- and long-term predictions and subsequent findings reported by Ramirez and colleagues ( Ramirez & Zhang, 2007; Ramirez & Wang, 2008), it is predicted that this association will display an inverted u-shaped pattern with an initial positive association that becomes negative over time.
Given the importance of communication in the management of the online-to-offline transition, this inverted u-shaped pattern should emerge in terms of perceptions of relational communication, or how communicators define themselves, their partner, and the relationship between them ( Burgoon & Hale, 1987). Consistent with previous research on CMC and MS ( e.g., Ramirez & Zhang, 2007; Walther, 1992), relational communication in the present study is conceptualized as multidimensional encompassing several distinct themes upon which partners interpret messages including: Intimacy encompasses a complex of experiences such as immediacy/affection, similarity/depth, and trust; Dominance focuses on moves to control, persuade, and command others or the relationship; Composure reflects the extent to which partners convey a sense of comfort, relaxation, and calmness; Formality refers to the extent to which messages fit prescribed and proper norms according to socially defined communicator roles; and task-social orientation focuses on the degree to which messages range from task-related to personal in nature. The inclusion of multiple dimensions allows for a broader assessment of relational message interpretations and comparison with previous research.
Those who do not anticipate future partner contact, on the other hand, are unlikely to exert effort to develop the relationship further
H1: The amount of time spent communicating online prior to meeting FtF will be curvilinearly associated with perceptions of relational communication: (a) intimacy, (b) dominance, (c) composure, (d) formality, and (e) task-social orientation.
In order to analyze real-world online dating relationships, the present study will treat the length of association as a continuous variable
When online daters meet in person after a period of online interaction, one of their goals is to determine the viability of the potential relationship ( Whitty, 2008). Predicted outcome value (POV) theory holds that the primary goal of such interactions is to derive a forecast of a relationship’s potential to provide present and future rewards ( Sunnafrank, 1986; Ramirez, Sunnafrank, & Goei, 2010). Individuals who anticipate they will interact with a partner at a later date are more likely to engage in information-seeking processes that enables estimation of the POV of future encounters ( Sunnafrank & Ramirez, 2004). Such an explanation is also consistent with social information processing theory and the hyperpersonal perspective ( Walther, 1996), which identify the anticipation of future interaction as a necessary condition for developing relationships and exaggerated expectations.
These results appear to translate well into an online dating context, as the environment affords users many opportunities to reduce uncertainty and seek information through online communication and observation. More specifically, daters begin the information acquisition process by perusing the photographs and narratives that potential partners share on their profile. They might establish contact to assess potential compatibility, and ultimately set up a FtF meeting to determine the viability of an offline relationship (for a review, see Finkel et al., 2012). Daters who choose to meet FtF likely see the potential for a positive POV, however, the first FtF meeting provides an immense amount of information that might enhance or diminish their outcome forecast about their partner.