Revisiting Media Richness Theory: Social Cues Impact on Understanding in a Textual World

Jenicka M Hornung, Pace University


Today people are more connected by technology than ever, but the impact of changing preferences for interacting on communication is still largely unknown. Differing levels of richness in modes of communication as determined by media richness theory were examined as a function of participants' accuracy and certainty in interpreting ambiguous messages. A sample of 111 undergraduate student participants were randomly assigned to text, audio, or video condition groups where they read, heard, or viewed ambiguous stimuli in four emotional tone categories (affection, aggression, sarcasm, and wit/humor) in an online survey. Findings included significant positive correlations between accuracy and certainty overall; when separated by condition, the association between accuracy and certainty was significant in the richest communication condition (video) across all four emotional tone categories and in the leanest condition (text) for affectionate messages only. Overall, there was a significant main effect for condition on accuracy scores, with the richest (video) condition having highest accuracy scores across the majority of emotional tone categories. Affectionately toned message accuracy was the exception, with higher accuracy scores in the moderately rich audio condition. Generally, the moderately rich condition produced accuracy rates that were lower than the richest condition but higher than the leanest (text) condition. Across all emotional categories, the leanest condition had significantly lower accuracy scores. There were no significant differences in certainty scores between conditions. In summary, while accuracy decreased in leaner forms of communication, individuals' confidence in their ability to accurately perceive messages remained stable across all communication mediums and emotional categories. This suggests people tend to be overconfident in their ability to accurately perceive messages; they may be unaware interpretational accuracy can vary significantly both across emotional tone and by medium, with accuracy decreasing most in text-based interactions. These findings could be used to help individuals better predict when to use richer forms of communication mediums to avoid misunderstandings, or to at least be more aware when their messages may be less clear. Additionally, the certainly findings support that richness alone does not predict media choices as participants did not appear to consider richness as a factor in effectively conveying meaning in their perceived understanding of information.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Communication|Psychology

Recommended Citation

Hornung, Jenicka M, "Revisiting Media Richness Theory: Social Cues Impact on Understanding in a Textual World" (2015). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3664071.



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