Perceiver and Target Characteristics: Gender
As seen in Figure 1, the proposed model of Web – based perception suggests that the individual characteristics of both the perceiver and the target play an important role in the impression formation process. Although there are many characteristics of interest, we chose to focus this study on the effects of perceiver and target gender for two main reasons. First, studies such as Gefen and Straub (1997) suggest that men and women may perceive and use communication technologies, such as email, differently. One explanation of these differences is that women may perceive a higher degree of social presence in online contexts, as Richardson and Swan (2003) found in their study of online courses. Females may also perceive online information sources differently than males. For example, Huffaker and Calvert (2005) analyzed gender identity and language issues based on entries in the Web 2.0 online journal phenomenon “blogs” (Web logs) and found this new media format surfaced gender-based differences that broke from stereotypical expectations. Venkatsubramanyan and Hill (2009b) found that women’s decision making processes may be more influenced by a potential teammate’s social networking activity than are men’s suggesting that perceiver gender may contribute to differences in ePerceptions.
Second, gender stereotypes may also influence impression formation. Computer mediated communication (CMC) has been shown to reduce the available amount of “individuating information,” cues that allows us to differentiate between group members (Lee, 2004). Although one might expect gender to play less of a role when social cues are limited, research suggests differently (Lea & Spears, 1991). The Social Identity model of Deindividuation Effects (SIDE) suggests that group members with insufficient individuating information for forming perceptions will fill the void by assigning stereotypical traits to other members of their group. SIDE also suggests that a lack of individuating information about others leads to a greater affinity with one’s own group (i. e. those of the same gender, race, nationality, etc.) and a greater likelihood that one will exhibit the stereotypical behaviors attributed to that group (Postmes & Spears, 2002). This is particularly relevant to the formation of ePerceptions as Web – based searches do not allow targets to provide supplemental individuating information and thus gender stereotypes and gender affinity may play a greater role in the formation of ePerceptions than they would in impressions formed face-to – face. Further, research also suggests that gender stereotype effects are so powerful that even minimal gender cues can encourage the assignment of gender stereotypes to others. Lee (2004) found that gendered cartoon avatars alone were sufficient for individuals to assign stereotypical behaviors and attributes to group mates in CMC contexts even when those individuals were told that the gender of the avatar may or may not match the actual gender of the group mate. Similarly, Nass, Moon and Green (1997) found that subjects assigned gender stereotypes to computers that exhibited male and female voices and responded accordingly. These studies all suggest the importance of both perceiver and target gender in the formation of ePerceptions.