Date of Award

4-23-2007

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Cynthia Hoffner - Chair

Second Advisor

Kathryn Seely

Third Advisor

Yuki Fujioka

Fourth Advisor

Phillip Gagne

Fifth Advisor

Jaye Atkinson

Abstract

This research explored college students’ attitudes toward online romantic relationships and their intentions to develop this type of relationship. Borrowing elements from both social cognitive theory and the theory of reasoned action, this study introduced a model that combined perceptions of indirect past experiences, beliefs, attitudes and social norms and associations with people’s intentions to form romantic relationships over the Internet. Under the premise that people learn through observation, this study argued that when direct experience is lacking (as was the case with this sample), other sources of indirect experiences with online romantic relationships (perceptions of significant others’ past experiences and exposure to media messages about online romantic relationships) would relate to people’s beliefs about these relationships and their perceptions of what significant others think (social norms). Based on the theory of reasoned action, it was hypothesized that people’s beliefs about online relationships would then be related to their attitudes toward such relationships. Lastly, also under the framework of reasoned action, it was hypothesized that both attitudes and social norms would predict people’s intentions to form or develop romantic relationships over the Internet. The purpose of this study was thus to examine how well predictors from social cognitive theory and the theory of reasoned action explained intentions to form online romantic relationships. A pilot study was conducted to derive beliefs and attitudes toward online romantic relationships and to test the main instrument. In the main study, 226 college students with no prior direct experience forming online romantic relationships completed a web-based self-administered questionnaire. A structural equation modeling (SEM) approach was used to assess the relative importance and the strength among the different constructs. Results indicated that the overall model fit the data well. The final model accounted for 46% of the variance in people’s intentions to form online romantic relationships. Perceptions of friends’ and family’s past experiences with online romantic relationships were significantly related to people’s beliefs about these relationships. However, only friends’ past experiences was related to social norms. Exposure to media (news stories or ads about dating sites) was not related to either beliefs or social norms. Consistent with the theory of reasoned action, beliefs were strongly correlated with attitudes about online romantic relationships, and lastly, both attitudes and social norms emerged as instrumental factors in predicting participants’ intention to develop online romantic relationships. Overall, the findings confirmed the importance of integrating indirect past experiences in understanding people’s attitudes and intentions to form romantic relationships over the Internet. The theoretical and methodological implications of these results for the study and understanding of online romantic relationships are discussed.

Included in

Communication Commons

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