Judgments of Personality Among Internet Users Over Instant Messenger: A Comparison with Non-Cyberspace Interaction
by Keith Preston



    This study used 44 students (N=44) from introductory psychology courses at a small, liberal arts college in the northeast. They signed up as part of the experiment for course credit for a general psychology course. There were almost three times as many female participants (N= 31) in the experiment as male participants (N= 13) in this experiment. The student’s ages ranged from 18 to 21.


    Participants in this study were each given a Technology Usage Survey (Preston, 2003) (see Appendix B) in order to assess that all participants were proficient with use of a telephone and America Online Messaging service.  This was done by having participants report that they had used an instant messaging service and that they had used AOL as an instant messaging service and report that they had used an instant service for at least an hour per week on average. Participants indicated on the survey that they talked on the telephone, on average, for at least one hour per week, this was a measure of telephone proficiency.

    The NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) Form S for college students (Costa, McCrae, 2003) was given to assess each participants personality characteristics on a five factor model of personality (Costa, McCrae, 2003). This gave five scores of self-report scores. After each discussion between two experimenters they were each given a second NEO-FFI to fill out about how they thought the other person would answer each question. This gave five perceived other report scores, each with five factors

    The NEO-FFI consists of 60 Likert type scale questions. Higher scores signify the higher they are on the end of each personality scale. The test holds high levels of internal consistency (r = .68-.86), correlation (r = .77-.92), and reliability with coefficients of .79, .79, .80, .75, .83 for the N, E, O, A, and C factors, respectively, p<.001.

    Some students used Pentium-class personal computers located in the Psychology Department of the college. Each computer will be equipped with the America Online Instant Messaging program. Other students will use telephones in the Psychology Department of the college.


    Students who signed up were told to meet at different locations at their scheduled times that were sent to them via electronic mail. All participants were given an informed consent form (see Appendix A). Participants were randomly assigned to a condition of either having a telephone conversation or a conversation over America Online Instant Messaging Service. Next, all students filled out a Technology Usage Survey and then a NEO-FFI. When both participants completed the surveys they were instructed that they would engage in a ten-minute conversation with another experimenter starting with the neutral topic given to them. The topic given to them was to “talk about your adjustment to college”.

    After this discussion they were instructed “to fill out the same NEO-FFI as they think the person they just conversed with would answer it”. Participants were then given a debriefing form (see Appendix C) and had all questions answered and the experiment explained to them

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