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Using instant messaging to enhance the interpersonal relationships of Taiwanese adolescents: evidence from quantile regression analysis.


The use of Instant Messaging (IM) by teenagers is becoming increasingly popular, and has become an object of media attention (Grinter & Palen, 2002). According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project (2005), IM usage is so popular among adolescents, that 75% of them use it and 65% report that they use IM to communicate with their friends (Lloyd, Meszaros, & Gotow, 2006). Adolescence is defined by a strong need for numerous friendships and peer-group affiliations. In addition, this developmental period is typically defined by the need for person-to-person communication with friends (Boneva, Quinn, Kraut, Kiesler, & Shlovski, 2006; Lloyd et al., 2006). IM is one of the latest communication devices available to adolescents to satisfy this need (Boneva et al., 2006).

Introduction of any new communication technology will have important implications for the culture and for social relationships (Narula, 1988). It would be interesting to determine the impact of IM usage on adolescents' interpersonal relationships in real life. Some research has focused on IM usage (Grinter & Palen, 2002; Boneva et al., 2006; Lloyd et al., 2006) while others have focused on the communicative function of IM (Schiano, Chen, Ginsberg, Gretarsdottir, Huddleston, & Isaacs, 2002; Boneva et al., 2006). However, even with all this interest, little is known about the correlation of interaction of teenagers via IM and the development of their interpersonal relationships in real life.

Lin and colleagues (2007) argue that the use of IM acts as a mediator between real and virtual interpersonal communication, leading directly to the individual's virtual interpersonal relationship. Nevertheless, their finding mentions little about the influence of IM usage on the real self-identity and social-identity of the adolescent. In order to answer these questions, this paper reports the findings from a quantitative study of this population.

Instant Messaging

The originator of IM is Jarkko Oikarinen who in 1988 created Internet Relay Chat--a synchronous computer-mediated messaging system defined as a type of communication service that enables the creation of a private chat room with other users (Hung, Huang, Yen, & Chang, 2007). IM allows users to send and receive short, text-based messages in real-time and to see who else is "online" and available to receive messages (Cameron & Webster, 2005). In short, IM has three features: exchange brief messages in order to address a single purpose (analogous to face-to-face communication through the application of multimedia technologies), and allows the user to multi-task at the same time (Isaacs, Walendowski, Whittaker, Schiano, & Kamm, 2002).

Adolescent Connectivity

Peer-based connectedness is especially important to adolescents (Hellenga, 2002). Interaction and communication among teens is rooted in a desire to express their needs on an equal footing. This interaction enhances their sense of belonging and helps them understand their individual self and others (Lin et al., 2007). There are two types of relationships: forming and maintaining individual friendships, and belonging to peer groups (Boneva et al., 2006). According to Kyratzi (2004), peer communication is a means of establishing and maintaining peer culture and is an essential device teens can use to display their identities and ideologies.

Adolescence, a development period, is typically defined by the need for face-to-face communication with friends. However, teens have limited time to interact with friends at school and may not be independent enough to meet with peers after school (Grinter & Eldridge, 2001; Schianno et al., 2002).

In this study, the term "interpersonal relationship" denotes the exchange between individuals of thoughts, feeling, expectations, perceptions, and behavior (Heider 1959). According to Schutz (1958), the model of Fundamental Interpersonal Relationship Orientation (FIRO) explains interpersonal behavior in terms of individual orientation toward others regarding three interpersonal needs: inclusion, control, and affection (Minahan & Hutton, 2004). In order to build friendships and identify with peers, adolescents may adopt new technologies such as IM that are perceived to be much less rich than face-to-face communication (Cameron & Webster, 2004).

IM among Teens

Adolescents say that they need IM to talk with peers after school, and some claim that their time is too limited for socializing during school hours (Grinter & Palen, 2002). Because of the design of IM it could be valuable both for communicating one-on-one with a friend and to create connectedness to a group of friends (Boneva et al., 2006). Instant messaging has become so popular that user names are exchanged by teens more often than phone numbers (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2005). In fact, the finding that the most active IM social groups of adolescents mirrored others at school means that the IM peer group reflects their real-life relationships (Grinter & Palen, 2002).

Previous research on adolescents and IM has tended to focus on who is using it and why, employing either large questionnaires on basic user data (Lenhart et al., 2001; Lenhart, Madden, & Hitlin, 2005), or in-depth ethnographic data with relatively small sample sizes (Grinte & Palen, 2002; Schianno et al., 2002). The main findings of those studies proposed that teens use IM to enhance communication among peers and to sustain friendships (Bryant, Jackson, & Smallwood, 2006). According to Boneva and colleagues (2006), IM not only connects adolescents to peers and extends their opportunities to communicate but helps define their social identity,

Although there is some literature on the prevalence of IM among adolescents, little is known about the social interactive function IM provides as a mediator, and how it affects the adolescents' offline social networks. The purpose of the present study was to explore the interpersonal interaction of teenagers when using IM and determine how it correlates with development of their interpersonal relationship in real life.



Participants in this study consisted of 369 students from a junior high school in Taoyuan, Taiwan: average age 14.58 years (SD = 0.92); 50.7% of them male. They were IM users employing either MSN or Yahoo! Messenger. On average, the subjects used IM 3.66 hours at a stretch (SD = 4.33) three times a week (SD = 2.02).


Data were collected via a questionnaire that was divided into three sections: basic information, interpersonal interaction, and satisfaction with adolescents' real-life interpersonal relationship via IM. With respect to basic information, a number of questions were asked to help the investigator understand the context and the circumstances in which the participants used IM. In addition, they were asked to provide demographic data, such as gender, age, and year in junior high school.

Interpersonal interaction through the use of IM was measured with an 11-item scale adopted from Walther & Burgoon (1992) and Parks & Floyd (1996). The scale covered affection, control, caring, trust, depth, width, understanding, and respect. Respondents were asked to rate their cognition on a five-point Likert-type scale ranging from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree." The third part of the questionnaire used measurements reported by Russell's (1996) UCLA Loneliness Scale, version 3, including a total of 20 items on satisfaction and dissatisfaction with their social relationships (10 items each). Participants replied using a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The primary purpose of this 3rd part was to measure satisfaction of the participant with his/her interpersonal relationship via IM.

Both reliability coefficients were above 0.8, indicating a relatively high reliability. (The reliability coefficients of the second part and third part of the questionnaire were 0.88 and 0.89, respectively.)


Factor Analysis of Interpersonal Interaction of IM Usage

This study adopted the Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) test and Bartlett's test of sphericity to examine the appropriateness of factor analysis for interpersonal interaction of IM stage. The results (KMO = 0.87, Bartlett's test of sphericity = 1744.507, significance = 0.000) showed that the method of analysis was appropriate. According to the analysis, the 11 items were reduced to two factors with eigenvalues greater than one, and the resulting factor structure explained 55.91% of the total variance, which is regarded as acceptable. The results of the factor analysis are shown in Table 1.

Factor 1, which was labeled "belonging to peer groups," was composed of 9 items and accounted for 46.15% of the variance. Factor 2 dealt with issues related to "forming and maintaining individual friendships." The items were chitchatting and sharing emotion via IM, and accounted for 9.76% of the variance.


Table 2 provides the mean, standard deviation, and correlation matrix of the variables studied. Descriptive information is this table allows for the examination of IM usage from the perspective of the adolescent. Examination of means suggests that adolescents associate with peers via IM in order to establish their self-identities (building friendships, M = 3.996) and social-identities (getting recognition, M = 3.555). Furthermore, the correlations indicated that two factors were significantly and positively related to interpersonal relationships in real-life (r = 0.425, r = 0.308, p < .0.01).

Results from the Ordinary Least Squares and Quantile Regression Analysis

Results of the Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression analysis are shown in Table 3. A direct and positive relationship between forming and maintaining individual friendships and interpersonal relationships was found to be significant at the interval of ([beta] = 0.117)p < 0.1, and it was accepted. In other words, the OLS regressions estimated a positive and significant influence of forming and maintaining individual friendships and interpersonal relationships. However, our results show that belonging to peer groups has no effect on interpersonal relationships.

The finding of the OLS regression shows that the self-identity function (forming and maintaining individual friendships) of IM usage is significantly related to interpersonal relationships of an adolescent, which disagrees with a previous view (Boneva, 2006). Once we had the above results, we employed the quantile regression to examine how forming and maintaining individual friendships and belonging to peer groups via IM is related to interpersonal relationships.

The OLS regression analysis provides only summary point estimates that calculate the average effect of the independent variables on the "average of interpersonal relationships." However, this result may hide important features of the underlying relationship. Quantile regression techniques can contribute a more complete picture to the relationship among interpersonal relationships, forming and maintaining individual friendships, and belonging to peer groups by using IM. In other words, while conventional regressions focus on the mean, quantile regressions are able to describe the entire conditional distribution of the dependent variable (Coad & Rao, 2006).

In Table 4, we see that belonging to peer groups and forming and maintaining individual friendships have different effects on interpersonal relationships in different quantiles. At the 5% and 25% quantiles it is accepted because a direct and positive relationship between forming and maintaining individual friendships and interpersonal relationships is significant at the interval of ([[beta].sub.5%] = 0.096 and [[beta].sub.25%] = 0.132) p < 0.1. Furthermore, the influence of forming and maintaining individual friendships on interpersonal relationships increased from 5% to 25% quantiles. However, the finding that belong to peer groups had no effect on interpersonal relationships was the same as that obtained by OLS.

As we move up the conditional distribution (from 50% to 75%), the coefficients of belonging to peer groups and interpersonal relationships are significant. This suggests a direct and positive relationship between belonging to peer groups, forming and maintaining individual friendships, and interpersonal relationships. Finally, at either the 90% or 95% quantile of the conditional interpersonal relationship distribution, neither belonging to peer groups nor forming and maintaining individual friendships has any effect on interpersonal relationships, and this finding is different from the OLS.

Through quantile regressions analysis we found that there was a specific consequence to the OLS at the different quantiles of the conditional interpersonal relationship distribution. Results of the OLS regression show that teens only build the society of their friends via IM in order to improve their interpersonal relationships. Quantile regression analysis adds a new dimension to the literature and suggests that the influence of belonging to peer groups and forming and maintaining individual friendships on interpersonal relationships varies dramatically across the relationship distribution.

First, adolescence will use IM as a communication device to establish and maintain an individual friendship at a lower value of interpersonal relationship. When interpersonal relationship increases, IM has greatly contributed to the improvement in a teenager's friendships. As we move to the upper interpersonal relationship, the influence of building friendships and getting recognition in interpersonal relationship rises significantly. It is worth noting that for an adolescent with the highest value of interpersonal relationship, IM has no influence.


The aim of the present study was twofold: first, to explore what IM as a mediator does for an adolescent, and second, to examine how IM usage influences their real-life interpersonal relationships. The results, through factor analysis, showed that two factors play a role: forming and maintaining individual friendships and belonging to peer groups. The moderate ratings of interpersonal interaction through IM demonstrate that this computer-mediated communication method helps define the self-identity and social-identity of the adolescent, which is consistent with previous findings (Boneva et al., 2006).

In addition, the finding that the development of interpersonal relationships was impacted by using IM indicates that adolescents adopt IM as a communication instrument to improve their interpersonal relationships in real life. However, the motivation to use IM is based on the relationship distance from others, similar to actual interpersonal interaction.

Adolescents establish friendships during the initial period of interpersonal relationship development via IM. The IM then becomes a tool for identification with their peers after gradually forming a closer relationship. After the relationship becomes very intimate, the use of IM has no significant affect on friendship building and recognition.

Thus it can be said that during the development period of interpersonal relationships, IM was used in forming and maintaining individual friendships and joining peer groups, but this function became a standard communication device during the later period of interpersonal relationship development.


Boneva, B. S., Quinn, A., Kraut, R. E., Kiesler, S., & Shklovski, I. (2006). Teenage communication in the instant messaging era. In R. Kraut, M.

Bryant, & S. Kiesler (Eds.), Computers, phones, and the Internet: The social impact of information technology. Oxford University Press.

Bryant, J. A., Jackson, A. S., & Smallwood, A. M. K. (2006). IMing, test messaging, and adolescent social networks. Journal of Communication Association, 11(2), 577-592.

Cameron, A. F., & Webster, J. (2005). Unintended consequences of emerging communication technologies: Instant Messaging in the workplace. Computers in Human Behavior, 21(1), 85-103.

Coad, A., & Rao, R. (2006). Innovation and market value: A quantile regression analysis. Economics Bulletin, 15(3), 1-10.

Grinter, R. E., & Palen, L. (2002). Instant messaging in teen life. Proceedings of the 2002 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (pp. 21-30). NY: ACM Press.

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Isaacs, E., Walendowski, A., Whittaker, S., Schiano, D. J., & Kamm, C. (2002). The character, functions, and styles of instant messaging in the workplace. In Proceedings of the 2002 ACM conference on computer-supported cooperative work. New Orleans, Louisiana, 11-20.

Lin, C. H., Sun, Y. C., Lee, Y. C., & Wu, S. C. (2007). How instant messaging effects the satisfaction of virtual interpersonal behavior of Taiwan junior high school students. Adolescence, 42(166), 417-430.

Lloyd, J. A., Meszaros, P. S., & Gotow, B. (2006). Instant messaging among teens: An exploratory look at gender and time usage. Michigan Family Review, 11, 21-38.

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Schiano, D. J., Chen, C. P., Ginsberg, J., Gretarsdottir, U., Huddleston, M., & Isaacs, E. (2002). Teen use of messaging media. In Human Factors in Computing Systems: CHI 2002, Extended Abstracts. Minneapolis, MN, 594-595.

Walther, J. B., & Burgoon, J. K. (1992). Relational communication in computer- mediated interaction. Human Communication Research, 19(1), 50-88.

Ya-Chung Sun, Assistant Professor, Department of Finance, Vanung University, Taiwan.

Reprint requests should be sent to Yueh-Chiang Lee, Vanung University, No. 1 Vanung Road, Chung-Li Tao-Yuan, 32045 Taiwan. E-mail:
Table 1
Interpersonal interaction via IM

Factor name Number of items Eigenvalues

1. Belonging to peer groups 9 5,077
2. Forming and maintaining 2 1.073
 individual friendship
 Total 11

Factor name variance (%)

1. Belonging to peer groups 46.151
2. Forming and maintaining 9.756
 individual friendship
 Total 55.907

Table 2
Means, Standard Deviations, and intercorrelations.

 Variables M SD 1 2 3

1 Belonging to peer groups 3.555 0.742 --
2 Forming and maintaining 3.996 0.895 0.522 * --
 individual friendship
3 Interpersonal relationship 3.523 0.647 0.425 * 0.308 * --

Note: * p < 0.01

Table 3
Results of OLS Regression

 OLS Regression
Constant 2.966 *
Belong to peer group 0.076
Forming and maintaining individual friendship 0.117 *
[R.sup.2] 0.049

Table 4
Results of Quartile Regression

 Quartile Regression

Quartile 5% 10% 25% 50%


 Belong to peer group -0.045 0.049 0.128 0.162 *
 Forming and
 maintaining individual 0.096 * 0.132 * 0.182 * 0.126 *
Pseudo [R.sup.2] 0.028 0.034 0.045 0.047

 Quartile Regression

Quartile 75% 90% 95%


 Belong to peer group 0.159 * 0.148 0.077
 Forming and
 maintaining individual 0.170 * -0.083 -0.052
Pseudo [R.sup.2] 0.041 0.008 0.004
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Author:Lee, Yueh-Chiang; Sun, Ya Chung
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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