Do You Get What I Mean?!? The Undesirable Outcomes of (Ab)Using Paralinguistic Cues in Computer-Mediated Communication

The shift to working from home, which has intensified due to Covid-19, increased our reliance on communication technology and the need to communicate effectively via computer-mediated communication and especially via text. Paralinguistic cues, such as repeated punctuation, are used to compensate for the lack of non-verbal cues in text-based formats. However, it is unclear whether these cues indeed bridge the potential gap between the writer’s intentions and the reader’s interpretations. A pilot study and two experiments investigated the effect of using repeated punctuation on behavioral intention to assist an email writer in a work-related situation. Findings demonstrate that while the intentions behind using repeated punctuation relate to signaling situational importance or affective state, behavioral intentions are driven by dispositional rather than situational attributions. Specifically, the use of repeated punctuation reduces perceived competence of the message writer and consequently decreases positive behavioral intentions. Overall, the study challenges the simplified view of paralinguistic cues as communication facilitators, highlighting their potential harmful effects on impression formation and behavioral intentions in the digital age.

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