Casual Effects of Language on the Exchange of Social Support in an Online Community

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The provision of social support is a common function of many online communities, but a full understanding of the causal effect of emotion language on the provision of support requires experimental study. The frequency of positive- and negative-emotion words in simulated posts requesting emotional support was manipulated and presented to a sample of college students (N = 442) who were randomly assigned to read one of four simulated posts. Participants completed measures of the original poster's (OP's) distress, and they provided a response to the simulated post. These responses were subjected to a computerized text analysis, and their overall effectiveness was rated by two independent judges. Fewer positive-emotion and more negative-emotion words in the simulated post led to perceptions that the OP was distressed and unable to cope. Participant-generated responses to the post were highest in positive-emotion words when the simulated post was high in positive-emotion words, but low in negative-emotion words. Finally, simulated posts that were low in positive-emotion words received responses that were judged to be more effective than did simulated posts that were high in positive-emotion words. These findings have implications for understanding the role of emotion language on the exchange of online social support.


This article was originally published as Biehl, S. A., & Kahn, J. H. (2016). Causal effects of language on the exchange of social support in an online community. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 19(7), 446–452.

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