Communication and Commitment in an Online Game Team

Communication and Commitment in an Online Game Team
Communication and Commitment in an Online Game Team
                                  Laura Dabbish12, Robert Kraut1, and Jordan Patton1
                             Human-Computer Interaction Institute and 2H. John Heinz III College
                                                 Carnegie Mellon University
                                          5000 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213
                               {dabbish, robert.kraut},
ABSTRACT                                                                       committed to an online group are crucial to its success.
Theories about commitment in online settings and empirical                     These are the members most likely to provide the content
evidence from offline environments suggest that greater                        that others value—answers to others’ questions in technical
communication in online groups should lead members to                          and health support groups (e.g., [43]), or code in open
become more committed and participate longer. However,                         source projects (e.g., [32]). Committed members also help
experimental evidence is sparse, in part because of                            enforce norms of appropriate behavior [47], police the
difficulties inducing communication online. Moreover,                          community and sanction deviant behaviors [8], and perform
previous work has not identified the route by which                            behind the scenes work to help maintain the community [6].
communication leads to increased commitment. In this                           Extensive research in social psychology and organizational
paper, we investigated whether task versus social                              behavior suggests that there are two distinct routes to
communication modeled by a leader versus a peer                                commitment to a group. People can identify with the group
influenced the amount that group members talked and their                      as an entity (common identity) or they can feel close to
willingness to continue participating in the group. We                         individual members of the group (common bonds; [40]).
conducted an experiment within ad hoc groups in the online                     These processes also seem to apply in online groups [45].
game World of Warcraft. Results suggest that
communication early in a group’s history causes members                        CSCW researchers have proposed design interventions to
to talk more later on and that the early communication                         increase identity-based commitment to online groups by
increases their commitment through its influence on group                      emphasizing the group as an entity and bond-based
atmosphere rather than through increased member                                commitment by emphasizing individuals and supporting
participation. Social communication by a peer is especially                    communication among them [42]. Experimental research
valuable in increasing commitment.                                             shows that it is possible to substantially increase identity-
                                                                               based commitment by, for example, partitioning a larger
Author Keywords                                                                group into subgroups and exposing subgroup members to
Virtual teams; commitment; conversation; communication;                        its logo, slogan or accomplishments. However, it is much
status; online games.                                                          more difficult to increase bond-based commitment [13, 41],
                                                                               in large part because of the difficulty inducing a sufficient
ACM Classification Keywords                                                    number of group members to communicate with each other.
H5.3. Group and Organizational Interfaces.                                     For example, only two percent of 12,000 unique members
                                                                               who had visited a money recommender site in the year after
General Terms                                                                  it launched discussion forums ever posted a message [18].
Human Factors
                                                                               Failures in communication are more general, even when
INTRODUCTION                                                                   communication is essential to the success of the online
An online group is more likely to be successful if it is                       group. For example, only approximately 14% of Wikipedia
composed of members who are committed to it.                                   editor discuss the articles they work on in the article’s talk
Commitment is “a force that binds an individual to an                          page [23]. A large percent of subscribers to email-based
organization and thereby reduces the likelihood of                             discussion groups are lurkers, never participating in
turnover” (p. 993, [30]). By commitment, we mean                               discussions, with a majority of lists having no
members’ affective connection to and caring for the group                      communication over a three-month period [6]. One of the
in which they become involved [1]. Members who are                             goals of the current research is to investigate ways of
                                                                               increasing communication in online groups where little
                                                                               otherwise occurs.
Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for
personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are          Research Question 1: How can               we    increase
not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies         communication in online groups?
bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. To copy otherwise,
or republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists, requires prior   There is good reason to believe that conversation among
specific permission and/or a fee.                                              members is important to generating bond-based
CHI’12, May 5–10, 2012, Austin, Texas, USA.                                    commitment in an online group. Communication is the
Copyright 2012 ACM 978-1-4503-1015-4/12/05...$10.00.
basis for interpersonal relationships, on which bond-based      percent of professional employees work in teams with some
commitment depends. Interpersonal communication drives          level of virtuality and this number has only increased since
the development of interpersonal attraction [14]. As            then [16, 22]. Developing commitment is particularly a
people’s interactions increase in frequency, their liking for   challenge for a virtual team [39]. Members of these teams
one another also increases [34]. In online communities,         have difficulty forming a shared identity [46], are more
especially, frequency of interpersonal communication is a       likely to make negative attributions about their fellow
major determinant of the extent to which people can build       members’ behavior [11] and feel they are not committed to
relationships with one another [28]. Interpersonal              the team [12], resulting in less willingness to help
relationships are especially likely to arise from exchanges     teammates and higher turnover [19, 52].
of personal information and self-disclosure [10, 38].
                                                                We were interested in whether we could induce
Meta-analyses of the research on commitment suggest that        communication in ad hoc virtual teams and whether this
communication among members of a group or organization          communication would influence team members’ subsequent
is strongly related to the level of commitment to that social   commitment to the team. In an experiment, we manipulated
entity [26, 38]. However, much of this work simply              the presence and type of communication an experimental
correlates self-reports about the frequency of various kinds    confederate in a leadership or non-leadership role produced
of communication with feelings of commitment. These             early in the team’s history. We examined how this
cross-sectional, correlational analyses do not demonstrate      influenced how much the other team members talked
that communication among group members actually                 amongst themselves and their subsequent commitment
increases commitment.                                           (measured by whether they wanted to stay with the team or
                                                                not). Our results suggest that injecting communication early
If interpersonal communication in online groups actually
                                                                in the team’s history significantly increased the amount of
increases commitment, the mechanisms involved remain
                                                                talk overall and commitment to the team. Talk by non-
unclear. That is, there is still an open question about what
                                                                leaders was especially effective when it was socially
that communication should look like. Specifically, does
                                                                oriented, not task oriented. In addition we find evidence
communication lead to commitment as a function of
                                                                that being talked to leads to commitment irrespective of the
production of communication (i.e., group members feel
                                                                amount an individual talks, suggesting commitment is a
involved when they talk to others) or receipt of
                                                                more a function of the social environment rather than direct
communication (i.e., they feel wanted when others talk to
                                                                engagement with the group.
them)? Does the content of the communication matter? For
example, if members exchange personal information
                                                                BACKGROUND AND HYPOTHESES
through task-oriented oriented talk or if they bond through
task-oriented talk? Finally, does the conversational partner    Modeling and Communication
matter (i.e., is communication from peers versus leaders        As discussed previously, communication within an online
equally as important to commitment)? A second aim of this       team is not automatic. How can one foster conversation
research is to better understand whether communication in       within an online group? Research on communication
online groups increases commitment and the causal               structure and conversation in online settings suggests a
pathways that might produce this effect.                        series of factors that could influence the amount of talking
                                                                with a group, including the effort required to produce an
    Research Question 2: Does communication in online           utterance [18], requests and other linguistic obligations [27,
    groups influence commitment?                                44], and behavioral mimicry or modeling [37]. In this
In order to investigate these research questions, we            research we focus on modeling, because it is under a
conducted the research described here in the context of ad      manager or group leader’s control to some degree. They can
hoc groups that form to accomplish difficult goals within       serve as role models by performing the behavior they desire
World of Warcraft, a popular multiplayer, online game.          from their team or by recruiting a subset of team members
These massively multiplayer games are important                 with appropriate qualities (e.g., extraversion).
businesses in their right. For example, over 11 million         Previous work suggests that in both social and nonsocial
players pay about $15 per month to subscribe to the game.       situations the behavior of others is a powerful cue for one’s
Moreover, the ad hoc groups in these game share many            own behavior [9], and is effective in influencing both
features of virtual teams used both online (e.g., the editors   private actions (e.g., towel recycling in hotel rooms, where
creating a Wikipedia article) or in the business world (e.g.,   information about the behavior of previous occupants
a task force designing new product). They consistent of         seems to encourage individuals to conserve and reuse
multiple people, often strangers, coming together for a         towels; [17]) and communication. In the domain of
defined time to perform a meaningful (at least to the           communication, response to models seems to occur
participants) interdependent task.                              subconsciously, for example, when individuals seem to
Virtual teams are increasingly present in the business world    automatically mimic a conversational partner’s nonverbal
as well. In 2002 Gartner Group suggested that more than 60      gestures, body language or speech [2, 37].
Modeling done early in a group’s history may set norms for     communicative environment is inviting and could suggest a
appropriate behavior that have long lasting effects. In        norm of openness in a group. For groups that have recently
groups and teams the appropriate or accepted ways of           formed, this environment could lead to feelings of cohesion
behaving (or norms) serve as a model for how other             and connection among members, even if they themselves
members should act. Theory about group development             do not talk. If this were the case, the presence of higher
suggests that these norms are set very early in a group’s      levels of communication among some members of a group
history together and established by observable patterns of     would be sufficient to increase commitment, regardless of
interaction [33]. These models of group development            whether an individual themselves is talking. The large
suggest that communication in the early stage of a group’s     number of repeat lurkers on many sites suggests that it is
history should set the tone for the group and suggest the      possible to be committed to a site without directly
nature of their behavior or interaction during later stages.   interacting with other members [35].
These considerations motivate our first hypothesis:
                                                                   Hypothesis 3: Role model communication in the early
    Hypothesis 1: When a role model communicates early             period of a group’s history should foster higher levels
    in a group’s history, this will cause more                     of commitment to the group.
    communication by other members later in its history.
                                                               Talking Increases Commitment
Participant roles may also influence the effectiveness of      Simply seeding a group with communication may not be
communication made early in a group’s history on               sufficient to foster commitment to that group. It may be that
subsequent communication within the group. Research on         one must actively participate in the conversation to feel a
conformity and influence in groups and teams suggests that
                                                               higher level of commitment. Theories of commitment also
leaders, because of their high status, may have greater
                                                               suggest that involvement with a team is an important
influence on group norms [24]. Similarly, in teams, leaders    antecedent to commitment [30]. This corresponds with
can often have more influence on a group’s conversation        research on communication in interpersonal relationship
and decisions [48]. Social identity theory suggests this is    development which suggests that sharing information with
because leaders serve as the prototypical member of the        someone can foster bonds and make you feel closer to that
group, in that they embody the values of the team, and         person. For example, research on disclosure and liking
represent how an ‘ideal’ group member should behave [20].      suggests that sharing personal information about yourself
Social identity theory, then, suggests that conversation by    with another person increases liking for that person [4]. In
leaders should more strongly influence the behavior of         groups, being highly engaged with the group and involved
other members than conversation by peers.                      may lead you to feel closer to the other members and
    Hypothesis 2: Conversation delivered early in a            increase your desire to stay with the group. Parks & Floyd’s
    group’s history by an individual in a leadership role      research on membership in online text-based discussion
    should have a stronger influence on subsequent group       forums showed a relationship between the amount of posts
    communication than conversation delivered by an            an individual had made in an online forum and their tenure
    individual in a peer role.                                 in the group [36]. If communication leads to commitment
                                                               through a feeling of involvement, then directly interacting
Communication and Commitment                                   with other members should increase feelings of
As discussed above, research on organizational                 commitment to that group. This perspective suggests that
commitment suggests that more communication between            the effectiveness of a communication intervention will be
members should strengthen commitment to a group [26, 29,       dependent on the participant’s own amount of
38]. However, previous work on this relationship has been      communication in response to initial seeded comments:
predominantly correlational in nature showing, for example,
                                                                   Hypothesis 4: The influence of a role model’s
that long time members of an online community are more
                                                                   communication on member’s commitment to the group
talkative and vice versa [36]. This makes it difficult to
                                                                   will be mediated by the amount they communicate.
ascertain the route by which conversation increases
commitment to the community. We suggest that there are
                                                               Member role and conversation type
two possible routes by which conversation increases
                                                               The relationship between communication and commitment
commitment to a group: (1) by creating a friendly              may depend largely on who does the talking and what they
atmosphere or tone, or (2) through participants own            say. The previous work on communication and commitment
communication and investment in the group.                     has suggested that leader communication is an important
Conversational Environment                                     influence on commitment [50]. Research on leader
The mere presence of conversation may create an inviting       communication has often focused on task-related
atmosphere, resulting in increased feelings of commitment      communication in the form of feedback. However, the
to a group. Theories of commitment suggest that                research on leader-member exchange has suggested that
socialization and value congruence are important               fostering a close relationship with subordinates through
antecedents of commitment to a group [30, 31]. A               socio-emotional (socially-oriented) communication can
increase subordinate motivation, commitment and                 the content of their communication, and measure the
satisfaction [15]. Other work on communication and              group’s response in terms of subsequent communication
commitment has suggested that leaders should instead focus      and commitment.
on task-related communication, which leads to higher
organizational commitment. In a series of surveys within        METHOD
two organizations, Postmes et al. [38] found that leader        Setting and Task
communication about task-related topics was more strongly       We conducted our experiment in the World of        Warcraft
associated with organizational commitment than peer             massively multiplayer online role-playing game,    which is
communication about socio-emotional topics. At the same         accessed by players over the Internet using        personal
time, peer communication about socio-emotional topics was       computers. Over 11.1 million people have a         monthly
an important determinant of commitment to the immediate         subscription to World of Warcraft [51].
group (versus the larger organization).
                                                                We applied our experimental manipulations within groups
Unfortunately, the previous work on communication and           completing dungeon raids. “Raiding” is a common activity
commitment has largely conflated communicator role and          in World of Warcraft, in which groups of players work
conversation topic. It is unclear whether socio-emotional       together to accomplish a common goal which none of them
communication from leaders would be equally effective as        could accomplish on their own. When players participate in
socio-emotional communication from peers in generating          a raid, they form a group using in-game tools and journey
commitment to the team. Similarly, we do not know               into an area of the game known as a “dungeon.” Players
whether task-related communication from peers would             almost never venture into dungeons on their own, as their
increase or decrease commitment relative to socio-              characters would quickly die without help. In a raid,
emotional communication. The relationship between               however, a very well coordinated group may successfully
communication topic and role could further illuminate the       defeat all of monsters in a dungeon. When these monsters
mechanism by which communication leads to commitment.           are defeated, they release special weapons, armor, and other
Postmes et al.’s [38] results suggest that when the leader is   “loot” that players desire. To increase the generalizability
talking, communication should lead to commitment when           of the research, we selected three dungeons that span a
that communication is related to the group’s task. This is      range of difficulties, time requirements, and participant
because the communication will serve to reinforce the           motivations: Pit of Saron, Forge of Souls, and the Culling
identity of the group as an entity [20].                        of Stratholme.
    Hypothesis      5a:    The      relationship     between    In organizing for a dungeon raid, players can select to work
    communication and commitment will be strongest when         with an existing team or can be randomly assigned to a
    that communication is focused on the group’s task           team using an in-game tool called the Dungeon Finder.
    (rather than socio-emotional) and delivered by an           After each raid, they have the option to continue as a team
    individual in a leadership role (rather than a peer).       beyond the immediate task. During the raid players have
                                                                available text-based channels of communication seen by all
However, if commitment is ultimately more a function of         participants (called the party chat). Players can also chat
interpersonal relationships among members of the team           privately with selected other players. Any player can record
[29], socially-oriented social communication delivered by       in game activity and all chat visible to them using game
peers should result in the strongest connection to the group.   tools and add-ons. Figure 1 shows a player’s screen during
    Hypothesis     5b:     The      relationship     between    a dungeon raid, with chat in the lower left corner.
    communication and commitment will be strongest when
    that communication is socio-emotional (rather than
    focused on the group’s task) and delivered by a peer
    (rather than an individual in a leadership role).

In summary, based on the previous research on
commitment, communication, and group development, we
expected that injecting communication early in a team’s
history would lead to more communication among the rest
of the team in a subsequent time period and ultimately
higher commitment to the team. We also expected that the
communicator’s role would interact with the nature of the
communication. We evaluated our stated hypotheses in an             Figure 1. World of Warcraft Dungeon Image, players
                                                                           cooperate to defeat a dungeon monster.
experiment within real groups in an online game. The
setting allowed us to manipulate the communicator’s role,
Participants                                                    During the course of this study, the same research assistant
Participants in the study were World of Warcraft players        played either the Tank role for the “leader” condition or the
who used the Random Dungeon Finder tool to enter the            Damage Dealer role for the “peer” condition. Members of a
three dungeons of interest. This tool allows players to sign    group can vary in status as a function of their
up for random dungeons that require five participants. The      instrumentality to the group’s task, i.e. the skills and
Random Dungeon Finder matches players into teams so that        resources they posses that directly impact successful task
all the necessary roles are filled. Additionally, it limits     performance [7]. Leadership in random dungeon groups in
access only to players with characters that have attained an    WoW play out differently than in other small, task-oriented
appropriate level, armor, and weapons to complete the           groups because they are based on character’s in-game
dungeon. We conducted trials with 108 different groups (5       functions rather than any special leadership ability. In the
person groups made up of 3-4 naïve participants per group       dungeon raid task, the Tank role was highly instrumental
plus one confederate) for a total of 457 participants.          because participants with Tank characters are less common
                                                                in the game than Healer or Damage Dealer characters, and
Experimental Manipulations                                      so more difficult to replace. The Damage Dealer role, on
In order to examine our hypotheses of interest, we modified     the other hand, was less instrumental because each team
the role and behavior of a confederate embedded in              contained three Damage Dealer players that were easy to
dungeon raid groups. Our experiment had two main                replace. Our hypotheses suggest that role modeling
manipulations: the type of chat the confederate used early      performed by different characters (Tank vs. DPS) should
in the groups existence (silent, socially-oriented, and task-   have different effects because the characters are
oriented), and the role of the confederate within the group     differentially important in the game.
(leader vs. peer). These variables were manipulated across
                                                                Communication type
dungeon raid groups, for a 3 (chat type) by 2 (role) between
                                                                The five-man dungeon raids in this experiment took
subjects design. We examined the influence of these
interventions on the amount of communication by other           between 15 and 30 minutes to complete. In order to
group members and their commitment to the team,                 manipulate the presence and nature of conversation and
measured by their willingness to stay in the group following    view its effects on the group’s own conversation, we
the immediate task. We describe our independent and             segmented the dungeon runs into three time periods. The
dependent variables in more detail below.                       confederate administered the conversation intervention
                                                                during the first time period, which was approximately one
Conversant role
                                                                third of the dungeon run (e.g. the first 5 minutes during a 15
We were interested in whether the relationship between          minute run) and observed with minimal communication
conversation and commitment would vary depending upon           during the next two-thirds of the dungeon run (e.g. 10
whether the role model was a leader of the group or just a      minutes during a fifteen minute run).
peer member. We manipulated leadership by having the            The confederate manipulated the presence of conversation
same confederate play different functional roles in the five-   in the first time period by initiating chat based on a script or
man dungeon raid groups as they battled monsters using          remaining silent unless spoken to. When conversation was
two different level 80 characters.                              present, the confederate varied the type of the conversation
Three unique roles must be fulfilled in a five-man dungeon.     by selecting conversational turns from a task-oriented or
The first role, called “Tank,” is a character with great        socially-oriented script. The scripts were created from
defensive capabilities who will soak up damage from             utterances observed in use by WoW players during pilot
attacks by dungeon monsters. The Tank is commonly               dungeon raids. Thus we had three levels in our
viewed as the natural leader of the group, as his actions       manipulation of communication type: silent, task-oriented,
determine a course through the dungeon and when and             and socially-oriented.
where fights will take place. The second role is called         During the silent condition, the confederate did not initiate
“Healer.” A Healer keeps all group members alive (and           any conversation and did not respond to general questions
resurrects the dead) by repairing damage to the other group     asked to the group as a whole, but offered short, polite
members as it occurs. The third and final role is called        replies if asked a direct question. During the task-oriented
“Damage Dealer,” and may also be referred to as the “DPS”       and socially-oriented conditions, the confederate made
or “Damage Per Second (DPS).” Damage Dealers attack             utterances in the group text chat at three points during the
designated targets to quickly kill them in the order            first five minutes of the dungeon raid: (a) at the very
prescribed by the Tank. A five-man dungeon group                beginning of the dungeon run, (b) after the second monster
includes one Tank, one Healer, and three Damage Dealers.        in the dungeon was killed, (c) after the fourth group of
                                                                monsters were defeated. These points were selected because
                                                                they are effectively subtask breakpoints within the dungeon
                                                                raid task and group members would be more likely to attend
                                                                to and have time to respond to the communication.
At each of these time points, the confederate selected                raid for which they formed [5]. In order to measure this,
randomly among conversational prompts. In the task-                   near the end of the dungeon raid but before participants left
oriented condition, conversational prompts were questions             the dungeon, our confederate queried the group to ask
directly related to the current dungeon raid task. Questions          whether they wanted to continue together on an additional
were utilized because the prior literature shows that                 dungeon raid. Before the final monster (the boss) in the
questions are more effective at initiating conversation than          dungeon was killed, the confederate posted a message to the
statements [44]. In the socially-oriented condition, the              group chat asking if they want to queue for another
conversational prompts were questions related to aspects of           dungeon. After the boss was killed, he/she immediately
the game outside of the immediate task or related to the              activated the Random Dungeon Finder and recorded which
players’ real lives outside of the game. Table 1 shows                (if any) team members queued for another dungeon. Thus
examples of task and socially-oriented prompts.                       our measure of individual commitment was behavioral -- a
                                                                      binary variable set to one if a team member re-queued for
  Conversational        Task-oriented        Socially-oriented        the next dungeon, and zero if not.
(a)   At the           “Is everybody      “What did you do            Control variables
      beginning of     ready?”            today?”                     In addition to our outcome measures of interest
      the dungeon                                                     (communication volume and behavioral commitment), we
(b)   After second     “What rotation     “I’m thinking of creating   also identified control variables measured to account for
      monster          do you use?”       a new alt, any              other factors that may influence the dependent variables.
                                          recommendations?”           These included the specific dungeon name, the participant’s
(c)   After fourth     “Does anyone       “Any of you working on      potential performance (character level, armor quality) based
      monster          need specific      hard modes in icc?”         on data retrieved from a public database that publishes
                       loot from here?”                               information on characters from World of Warcraft, the
                                                                      participant’s actual performance during the dungeon raid
      Table 1. Examples of task and socially-oriented prompts         task (damage or heals per second), and their role (Tank,
After the confederate manipulated his communication, in               Healer, or Damage Dealer).
the remaining two-thirds of the dungeon run, he was silent,
responding only to direct questions.                                  RESULTS
                                                                      We conducted 108 trials within the dungeons in World of
Outcome Measures                                                      Warcraft, with approximately 4 participants per trial for a
We collected two dependent variables: the amount of talk              total of 457 participants. Data from participants across all
by team members following the conversation intervention               three roles are included in our analysis. Twenty-two team
and commitment to the team.                                           members dropped out of the raid before completion and
                                                                      were replaced by the Random Dungeon Finder. The results
Conversation generated                                                reported below do not change whether or not the 22
In order to measure the effectiveness of conversational               replacements were included in the analysis.
modeling on subsequent conversation among group                       We were interested in whether our communication
members, we measured the amount of talk in the second                 manipulation generated communication by the other
period of the dungeon run. We did this by logging the chat            members of the team (Hypothesis 1), whether
from all group members using an in-game feature that                  communication role modeling was more effective when
captured all text communication and recorded it to a file on          done by a group leader or peer (Hypothesis 2) whether the
the confederate’s computer. Chat logging appended                     presence of communication increased team member
timestamps to all text messages. We calculated the amount             commitment directly (Hypothesis 3) or in a mediated
of talk generated by each member of the group during the              fashion (Hypothesis 4) and whether these possible effects
second time period of play in terms of lines of                       varied by member role (Hypothesis 5a and 5b).
communication, with each line representing an utterance,
after eliminating the confederate’s communication. It is              We first examined the influence of our communication
important to note that this measure includes only chat                manipulation in the first period of play on the amount of
messages sent using the party chat (hence visible to all              talk generated by members of the group in the second
members of the group) while private messages between                  period. We conducted a negative binomial regression of the
pairs of players were not captured in the logs.                       number of lines of talk generated by each member in the
                                                                      second time period of the session to account for the skewed
Commitment                                                            distribution of the count data, with individual nested within
We were interested in whether the initial conversation                group to account for the non-independence of observations
directly or indirectly influenced commitment to the team.             across members of the same group. We included member
Here we defined commitment as a desire to stay with team              role, conversation type, and their interaction as independent
beyond the original team goal of completing the dungeon               variables in our model, along with the dungeon and player
performance potential as control variables. Statistical tests    in odds ratios (OR), the ratio of the odds of staying in the
are reported as Incident Report Ratios (IRR), the ratio of       group when an independent variable increases by a unit
the amount of lines of talk as an independent variable           compared to a baseline condition. Because decisions within
changed from a baseline condition (e.g., the peer role           a single group are not independent of each other, the
model) to another (e.g., the leader role model). Figure 2        analysis nested members within groups with participant id
shows the pattern of results for amount of communication.        included as a random effect in the model, to account for this
                                                                 non-independence of observations. Players were
                                                                 substantially more likely to want to continue playing in
                                                                 groups where the confederate was a leader than when it was

                                                                 a peer (OR=4.94; p=.001).

Figure 2: Effects of confederate role and communication type
                 on players’ communication
H1 predicts that group members would talk more when a
                                                                 Figure 3: Effects of confederate role and communication type
role model talked early in the groups history than when the
                                                                                    on players’ commitment
role model was silent. This hypothesis was confirmed. We
created a nominal variable to contrast talk versus silent        H3, which predicted that more communication early in a
conditions (effectively collapsing the task-oriented and         group’s life cycle would increase group members’
socially-oriented talk manipulations). When the role model       commitment, was confirmed. Figure 3 shows the pattern of
talked in the first third of a group’s life, the other members   results for commitment across conditions.
talked more in the remaining two-thirds (IRR=1.61; p=.05).
                                                                 The presence of conversation doubled the odds of staying
We conducted exploratory analyses to determine whether           with the group (OR=2.10; p=.01). The effect of the
the type of talk mattered, including a nominal variable          leadership role was large. However, the communication had
representing the three levels of talk in our experiment          different effects when the confederate performed different
(silent, task- and socially-oriented). Both types of talk had    roles in the group (for the role by communication
an influence on the amount of participant talk, with early       interaction, OR=.28, p=.04). In particular, communication
socially-oriented talk by our confederate having the             increased players’ commitment when the role model was a
strongest influence on the lines of talk (IRR=1.75; p=.04)       peer (OR=2.75, p=.12), but depressed it when they were
and task-oriented talk only marginally increasing the            leaders (OR=.61, p=.10).
amount of talk among the other members of the group
                                                                 Distinguishing among the types of communication shows
(IRR=1.49; p=.15).
                                                                 that socially-oriented chat tripled the odds of staying with
H2 predicted that the effects of role model talk would           the group (IRR=3.10; p=.02), while task-oriented
increase when the role model was a group leader.                 communication did not reliably increase the odds of staying
However, this hypothesis was not confirmed. The effects of       (OR=1.35, p=.54). However, as Figure 2 shows, the effects
role modeling were not different when the model was a            of different types of communication varied with the
leader or peer (for the Role by Talk interaction, IRR=0.79;      confederate’s role. Socially oriented communication
p=.47). In addition, the leadership role did not influence the   increased the probability of players’ staying when the
power of role modeling when we separately examine their          confederate was a peer (OR=4.65, p=.04), but had no effect
task-oriented communication (for the Role by task-oriented       when the confederate was a leader (OR=.79, p=.50; for role
communication interaction, IRR=0.82; p=.61) and their            by socially-oriented communication interaction, p=.03). In
socially-oriented communication (for the Role by Socially-       contrast, task-oriented communication depressed a player’s
oriented communication interaction, IRR= 0.76; p=.48).           probability of staying when the confederate was a leader
                                                                 (OR=.48, p=.03), but had no effect when the confederate
Conversant role, communication type, and commitment
                                                                 was a peer (OR=1.64, p=.49; for the role by task-oriented
Because the outcome measure of commitment is binary
                                                                 communication interaction, p=.08).
(whether a group member signed up to play with the group
again or nor), we conducted a random-effects logistic            These results suggest that players wanted to continue in
regression on the decision to continue. Results are reported     groups when the confederate was a leader. He made the
group attractive by dint of his status and irreplaceability.   environmental effect, rather than direct involvement, that
Communication didn’t enhance his position in the group,        communication can increase commitment to a group.
and even hurt it when he engaged in task-based                 Additionally, our results showed this occurred regardless of
communication. In contrast, players were less likely to want   the type of communication (task or socially-oriented talk).
to continue playing in groups when the confederate was         Hypothesis                         Supported?
their peer. His position, gameplay and replaceability made
the group less attractive than if he had been a leader.        1: When a role model               Yes. Presence of chat increased
                                                               communicates early in a            the amount of member chat
However, he could compensate for these problems of status      group’s history, this will cause   across all role conditions.
and performance through social communication. We               more communication by other
suspect that other players grew to like the group more         members later in its history.
because of his social rather than task competence.             2: Conversation delivered early    No. Early conversation by both
                                                               in a group’s history by an         peers and leaders increased
Finally we examined whether the influence of early
                                                               individual in a leadership role    member conversation volume.
communication on commitment occurred as a function of          should have a stronger
communication environment, or was mediated by member           influence on subsequent group
communication, suggesting involvement as a pathway.            communication than
                                                               conversation delivered by an
Having established the direct influence of chat presence and   individual in a peer role.
type on the amount of member communication, and the
influence of communication type on commitment, we next         3: Role model communication in     Yes. Chat manipulation
                                                               the early period of a group’s      significantly increased likelihood
added member communication to our model of                     history should foster higher       of staying in the group.
commitment (as lines of talk). We found that the presence      levels of commitment to the
of chat continued to have a positive influence on              group.
commitment (likelihood of staying with the group), even        4: The influence of a role         No. Early conversation had a
with the amount of member communication included in the        model’s communication on           direct influence on the likelihood
model (OR=2.05; p=.11), particularly for the peer              member’s commitment to the         of staying with a group. In
conversant’s (role by talk interaction: OR=1.75; p=.03).       group will be mediated by the      particular, socially-oriented
                                                               amount they communicate.           communication had the
This result suggests that member talk does not mediate the                                        strongest influence on retention.
influence of leader or peer communication on member
commitment to the group. We examined this pathway using        5a: The relationship between       No. Communication type did not
                                                               communication and                  influence commitment when
a binomial regression in order to compare the coefficients     commitment will be strongest       delivered by an individual in a
for the direct effect of commitment with and without           when that communication is         leadership role.
member communication in the model using mediation tests.       delivered by an individual in a
We found the mediation was not significant according to        leadership role (rather than a
                                                               peer) focused on the group’s
this test [3]. Thus, we find support for Hypothesis 3, that    task (rather than socio-
conversation influences commitment by creating a positive      emotional).
climate in the group. Support for our hypotheses is
                                                               5b: The relationship between       Yes. Significant interaction
summarized in table 2.                                         communication and                  between role and conversation
                                                               commitment will be strongest       type, with talk type having the
DISCUSSION                                                     when that communication is         strongest influence on
The results from our study indicate that it is possible to     socio-emotional and delivered      commitment to peer conversant
                                                               by a peer.                         (and no influence of talk type for
induce communication in a temporary online team through                                           leaders).
the use of a role model. We found that communication early
in a group’s history led to increased levels of                Table 2 – Summary of Hypotheses and Experimental Support
communication by group members. In addition, the role
model’s communication was effective in increasing              This suggests that the nature of the communicative
commitment to the group in the form of member retention.       environment may matter less than the fact that members are
                                                               interacting with one another.
Our results also illuminate the causal pathway between
communication and commitment to a group. We found that         Future work is needed to ascertain exactly how and why the
communication influences commitment to a group by              communicative environment leads to commitment to a
creating a supportive environment within which members         group. Previous work has suggested that social support is
choose to remain. This is evidenced by the fact that early     particularly important antecedent to commitment to a social
communication by either a peer or a leader led to higher       group, and it may be that presence of communication
levels of member communication (which could be                 induces a feeling of this type of support. It may also be that
construed as evidence of affective or behavioral               communication changes member perceptions of the group
commitment), but this member communication did not             as an entity. For example, communication may increase the
explain the increase in likelihood to stay with a group        general attractiveness of a group, by suggesting members
(continuance commitment). Thus it is through an                are more involved or committed to the task. Particularly in
a distributed environment, this evidence of commitment                  disclosure, and topical similarity. Human
may reduce uncertainty about whether or not members are                 Communication Research 10, 2 (1983), 269-281.
engaged and committed to the group.                               5.    Bettenhausen, K. L. Five years of groups research:
We also found that the communicator role had a significant              What we’ve learned and what needs to be addressed. J.
influence on the effect of communication content, with                  of Management 17 (1991), 345-381.
socially-oriented communication substantially increasing          6.    Butler, B. Membership size, communication activity,
commitment only when the communicator was a peer                        and sustainability: A resource-based model of online
(rather than the leader of the group). This relates to work on          social structures. Information Systems Research 12, 4
liking and relationship formation in work groups, where                 (2001), 346–362.
personality can increase attractiveness of less skilled           7.    Casciaro, T., and Lobo, M.S. When task competence is
members but may not influence the perceived utility of                  irrelevant: The role of positive and negative
clearly instrumental members [7]. It may be that                        interpersonal affect in instrumental ties, Administrative
communication is attended to more when it is delivered by               Science Quarterly 53 (2008), 655-684.
members whose utility is uncertain to the group.                  8.    Chua, C., Wareham, J., and Robey, D. The role of
Limitations                                                             online trading communities in managing internet
It is important to note the potential limitations of our study,         auction fraud, MIS Quarterly 31, 4 (2004), 759-781.
which was conducted in a virtual environment primarily            9.    Cialdini, R.B., and Goldstein N.J. Social Influence:
used for entertainment by its players, with small groups. It            Conformity and Compliance. Annual Review of
is unclear to what extent these results would generalize to a           Psychology 55 (2004), 591–621.
traditional organizational setting where members are being        10.   Collins, M., and Miller, L.C. Self-disclosure and liking:
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task completion. World of Warcraft is a setting where                   3(1994), 457-475.
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                                                                  12.   Crossman, A., and Lee-Kelly, L. Trust, commitment,
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                                                                        and team working: The paradox of virtual
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