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The need for a theory of social presence is more press- ing as the Internet and virtual environments become increas- ing social. With time we can observe an increase in social interaction not only among users, but also between users and computer agents. A robust and detailed theory and measure of social presence could contribute to our under- standing and explaining social behavior in mediated environ- ments, allow researchers to predict and measure differences among media interfaces, and to guide the design of new social environments and interfaces. The article reviews, classifies, and critiques existing theories and measures of social presence. A set of criteria and scope conditions is pro- posed to address weaknesses in past theories and measures and to provide clear criteria for a measurement theory of social presence. DEFINITION OF THE PROBLEM OF SOCIAL PRESENCE
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Abstract
The need for a theory of social presence is more press-
ing as the Internet and virtual environments become increas-
ing social. With time we can observe an increase in social
interaction not only among users, but also between users
and computer agents. A robust and detailed theory and
measure of social presence could contribute to our under-
standing and explaining social behavior in mediated environ-
ments, allow researchers to predict and measure differences
among media interfaces, and to guide the design of new
social environments and interfaces. The article reviews,
classifies, and critiques existing theories and measures of
social presence. A set of criteria and scope conditions is pro-
posed to address weaknesses in past theories and measures
and to provide clear criteria for a measurement theory of
social presence.
DEFINITION OF THE PROBLEM
OF SOCIAL PRESENCE
Connecting to other minds
through technology
There is one often repeated claim of communica-
tion theory: the function of media is to collapse space
and time to provide the limited illusion of being there in
other places and being together with other people (Biocca,
Kim, & Levy, 1995; Czitrom, 1982; McLuhan, 1964).
The dream of this illusion has been pursued for centu-
ries (Biocca et al., 1995). Commentators always believe
they have it just within their grasp with every new me-
dium be it perspective painting, photography, film, or
virtual reality (Alberti, 1966/1945; Biocca, 1988; Biocca
et al., 1995; Biocca, 1987; Gombrich, 1956).
Far less obvious is how the “being there” and
“being together” provided by technological mediation
filters and colors the psychological experience of the
represented places and people. Theories of presence
have arisen to understand, explain, predict, and control
the phenomenal qualities of mediated experience and
their cognitive correlates (Barfield, Zeltzer, Sheridan, &
Slater, 1995; Heeter, 1992; Held & Durlach, 1992;
IJsselsteijn, de Ridder, Freeman, & Avons, 2000, January;
Lombard & Ditton, 1997; Loomis, 1992; Sheridan, 1992;
Slater, 1999; Slater & Steed, 2000; Slater, Usoh, &
Steed, 1995; Stanney, 1998; Steuer, 1995; Witmer &
Singer, 1994; Zahornik & Jenison, 1998). Presence the-
ory focuses on the effects of mediation on experience
especially as our awareness of the mediation oscillates,
flickers, and sometimes fades (Kim & Biocca, 1997; Sla-
ter & Steed, 2000). The implicit or sometimes explicit
goal of engineering for presence is for mediation to dis-
appear and for the sense of “being there” and “being
together” (Akiyama, 1991; Alessi, 1988; Hays & Singer,
Criteria and scope conditions
for a theory and measure of social presence
Frank Biocca
1
, Judee Burgoon
2
, Chad Harms
1
, Matt Stoner
2
,
1
Media Interface and Network Design (M.I.N.D.) Labs,
Dept. of Telecommunication, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824
Tel: (517)355 5073 Fax: (517)355 1292 Email: Biocca@msu.edu
2
Dept. of Communication, University of Arizona, Tuscon, AR.
WWW.MINDLAB.ORG
Media Interface & Network Design Lab
1989; Heilig, 1992/1955; Lombard & Ditton, 1997;
McGreevy & R., 1991). At one extreme it becomes sim-
ply being (Biocca, 1996; Lauria, 1997).
Presence is frequently presented as consisting of
two interrelated phenomena (Biocca, 1997b; Biocca &
Levy, 1995; Heeter, 1992):
? telepresence, the phenomenal sense of “being
there” and mental models of mediated spaces that
create the illusion;
? social presence, the sense of “being together with
another” and mental models of other intelligences
(i.e., people, animals, agents, gods, etc.) that help us
simulate “other minds”
Increasing network bandwidth, higher mobility, and
more immersive designs promise to offer a better sense
of access to real and virtual places, i.e., the sense of
telepresence (Biocca, 2000). But the use of this band-
width may rarely be focused on visiting places. More
fundamentally, most telecommunication bandwidth is
used to gain satisfying and productive access to others,
the thoughts, emotions, and presence of real and virtual
humans (e.g.,Fischer, 1988). Because we are social be-
ings, the most common purpose of physical presence is
to increase the sense of social presence. Because the
social presence of the other is mediated by telecommu-
nication technology, it might be more accurately de-
scribed as mediated social presence or social
telepresence. In keeping with tradition in this area
(Heeter, 1992; Palmer, 1995; Short, Williams, &
Christie, 1976) we will use the phrase social presence
to mean specifically interactions in mediated environ-
ments, even though the phrase also applies to non-
mediated interactions. (Huguet, Galvaing, Monteil, &
Dumas, 1999; Soussignan & Schaal, 1996) But what is
social presence and how can we measure it? The prob-
lems of how to define, measure, and control-design
physical presence and social presence have become
both challenging and practical problems in communica-
tion theory (Biocca, in press; Lauria, 1997; Lombard &
Ditton, 1997l; Palmer, 1995), virtual environment design
(Barfield et al., 1995; Held & Durlach, 1992; Short et al.,
1976), and in psychological measurement (Draper &
Blair, 1996; Ellis, 1996; Ellis, Dorighi, Menges, Adelstein,
& Joacoby, 1997; Freeman, 1998; Ijsselseijn, Ridder,
Hamberg, Bouwhuis, & Freeman, 1998; Ijsselsteijn & de
Ridder, 1998; IJsselsteijn et al., 2000, January; Ijssel-
steinjn & al., 2001; Lessiter, Freeman, Keogh, & Davi-
doff, 2000, March; Lombard et al., 2000; Murray, Ar-
nold, & Thornton, 1998; Novak, Hoffman, & Yung, May
1998; Slater, 1999; Witmer & Singer, 1998).
Although we defined social presence as “being to-
gether with another” in the virtual environment, we
consider this definiton tentative. By the end of the arti-
cle we hope to show that this kind of definition may be
inadequate for the explication and measurement of so-
cial presence. In an effort to work towards a more
sensitive, reliable, and valid measure, we end by outlin-
ing criteria and scope conditions for a conceptualization
and measure of social presence
Why a theory of mediated social presence
is needed
Why is a useful and insightful theory of social pres-
ence needed at this time? Why is it important that this
theory be linked to a valid, reliable, and easily imple-
mentable measure of social presence?
The Internet is a social place. Because of growth in
our telecommunicating infrastructure (Internet.com,
2001), many relationships and more and more interac-
tions with others are mediated by the telecommunica-
tion system. We increasingly communicate and work
with others via the telephone, email, chat rooms, virtual
environments, and teleconferencing systems. The rise of
true virtual communities involves rich relationships that
never or rarely include face-to-face interactions (e.g.,
Rheingold, 1993).
Furthermore, an increasing number of quasi-social
relationships are being created with new forms of intel-
ligent beings, such as computers themselves and intelli-
gent agents that inhabit virtual environments (Cassell,
Sullivan, Provost, & Churchill, 2000; Chorafas, 1997;
Franklin, 1997; Kushmerick, 1998; Petrie, 1996; Byron
Reeves & Clifford Nass, 1996). Speech interfaces simu-
late social interaction with the computer (Yankelovich,
Levow, & Marx, 1995). Users of the Internet finds
themselves interacting more frequently with virtual hu-
man agents as they increasingly are found as “office as-
sistants,” as guides on websites, characters in social 3D
virtual environments, and team members or opponents
in computer games.
Social presence is what networked telecommunica-
tion systems and virtual human agents promise users.
Increasing social presence is the goal of many specific
refinements in the technology (e.g.,Cassell et al., 2000;
Byron Reeves & Cliff Nass, 1996; Singhal & Zyda, 1999;
Slater & Wilbur, 1997). Social presence is what these
systems purport to deliver (e.g.,Fischer, 1988; Singhal &
Zyda, 1999). How well do these systems work? The
answer to this question has a technical form, but the
real answer is social psychological in nature. How well
did one person feel connected to another through an
interface? What was the appropriate level of interaction
2
for the task? Did the user feel socially and psychologi-
cally connected to an intelligent “other” when interact-
ing with the virtual human agent? The assessment of
satisfaction with entertainment systems and with pro-
ductive performance in teleconferencing and collabora-
tive virtual environments is based largely on the quality
of the social presence they afford.
Research in organizational communication indicates
that media are selected to better accommodate activi-
ties affected by social presence (e.g., Palmer, 1995; Rice
& Case, 1983; Steinfield, 1986). Respondents selected
media to modulate social presence for a wide range of
activities including exchanging information, problem
solving and making decisions, exchanging opinions, gen-
erating ideas, persuasion, getting the other on one’s
side of an argument, resolving disagreements or con-
flicts, maintaining friendly relations/staying in touch, bar-
gaining, getting to know someone, exchanging confident
information, and exchanging timely information.
But is social presence measured directly, reliabily,
or with valid measures? How might a theory and meas-
ure of social presence help researchers really undertand
and measure the performance of various social tele-
communication systems? A theory and measure of so-
cial presence is required to:
? Understand the effect of various technological,
task, and social variables on the perception of oth-
ers and their interaction in telecommunication sys-
tems.
? Measure the user’s sense of satisfaction with the
representation of others in networked technolo-
gies.
? Use social presence measurement as one key yard-
stick to compare the relative effectiveness of va-
rous mediated technologies, interface features, or
agents.
? Determine whether social presence contributes to
the efficiency and performance of collaborative
teamwork, distributed learning, and networked re-
lationships.
A strong theory of social presence might also pro-
vide us with insight into how people simulate and model
“other minds” from the physical and communication
cues provided by the bodies and actions of others
(Carruthers & Smith, 1996; Dennett, 1987, 1996;
Gordon, 1986; Premack & Premack, 1996). This article
is part of effort to provide a conceptual explanation and
measure for the phenomena of social presence. We
called this the Networked Minds Social Presence effort,
part of the Presence Initiative, a project that explores
various aspects presence at the Media Interface and
Network Design Labs (Embodied computing, 2001).
Elsewhere, we report on the latest version of measure
and the related conceptualization we call the Net-
worked Minds measure of social presence (Biocca, Bur-
goon, Harm, & Gregg, 2001) because it seeks to pro-
vide a metric to measure the degree to which individu-
als feel interconnected to each other through net-
worked telecommunication interfaces.
CONCEPTUALIZATIONS OF COPRESENCE AND
SOCIAL PRESENCE
Mediated social presence involves using a commu-
nication system to come to know the intentions, cogni-
tions, emotions, and actions of another mind connected
to you via a telecommunication system.
The fundamental theoretical question of how one
comes to “know other minds” has a long, complex, but
interesting history in the fields of philosophy and psy-
chology (Carruthers & Smith, 1996; Dennett, 1987,
1996; Rosenthal, 1991). A theory of social presence,
how we generate mental models of virtual others in
mediated communication, is subset of this larger debate.
We believe that a full understanding of social presence
must be set within a larger theory of how we interpret
physical signals to simulate and infer the content of
other minds (Biocca et al., 2001).
The theorizing on social presence has roots most
directly in social psychological theories of interpersonal
communication. The influence of classic social psycholo-
gist, George Herbert Mead (Mead & Morris, 1934) on
the “Other” (capitalized because of its role on human
behavior and social identity) can be seen in very earliest
formulations of social presence. In their influential text,
Short, Williams & Christie (1976) drew more directly
on the social psychological work of Argyle (Argyle,
1969; Argyle, 1975, 1965; Argyle & Cook, 1976), Bird-
whistell (Birdwhistell, 1970) Mehrabian (Mehrabian,
1972) on the role of non-verbal communication in in-
terpersonal interaction..
Definitions of social presence
While definitions of social presence vary, they clus-
ter around key themes. See Table 1 for outline of re-
view of social presence definitions and theories pre-
sented below.
The non-definitional approach
Let us begin with examples of “non-definition.” Re-
searchers in the area of presence might be little sur-
prised, maybe even stunned, to find that for some social
3
Table 1
Definitions of Social Presence
Classification Definition
Sample social
presence
research using
the definition
Co-presence: co-location, mutual awareness
Co-presence: sensory
awareness of the
embodied other
(Goffman, 1959)
??(un-mediated) “experiencing someone else with
one’s naked senses, (p. 15)
?? “physical distance over which one person can
experience another with the naked senses-
thereby finding that the other is “within range” (p.
16)
??“full conditions of copresence, however, are
found in less variable circumstances: persons
must sense that they are close enough to be
perceived in whatever they are doing, including
their experiencing of others, and close enough
to be perceived in this sensing of being
perceived.” (p. 17)
(Biocca & Nowak,
1999, May; Biocca
& Nowak, 2001;
Ciolek, 1982;
Nowak, 2000;
Nowak & Biocca,
1999; Nowak &
Biocca, 2001)
Co-location
??“ the feeling that the people with whom one is
collaborating are in the same room” (Mason,
1994)
??“Social presence refers to the feeling of being
socially present with another person at a
remote location.” (Sallnäs, Rassmus-Gröhn, &
Sjöström, 2000)
??“the degree of tangibility and proximity of other
people that one perceives in a communicaiton
situation” (McLeod, Baron, Marti, & Yoon, 1997)
(Mason, 1994;
McLeod et al.,
1997; Sallnäs et
al., 2000;
Tammelin, 1998)
Apparent existence,
feedback, or interactivity
of the other (Heeter,
1992)
?? “the extent to which other beings in the world
appear to exist and react to the user” (Heeter,
1992)
??“ the degree to which a person is perceived as
a ‘real person’ in mediated communication
(Gunawardena, 1995)
(Cuddihy &
Walters, 2000;
Culnan & Markus,
1987;
Gunawardena &
Zittle, 1997;
Palmer, 1995)
Sense of being together
?? “the sense of being together” (de Greef &
IJsselsteijn, 2000; Ho, Basdogan, Slater,
Durlach, & Srinivasan, 2001)
...continued on the next page
Psychological Involvement
Perceived access to
another intelligence
(Biocca, 1997)
??“The minimum level of social presence occurs
when users feel that a form, behavior, or
sensory experience indicates the presence of
another intelligence. The amount of social
presence is the degree to which a user feels
access to the intelligence, intentions, and
sensory impressions of another.” (Biocca, 1997)
(Huang, 1999;
Nowak, 2000)
Salience of the other
(Short, Williams, &
Christie, 1976)
??“The degree of salience of the other person in
the interaction and the consequent salience of
the interpersonal relationships…it is a subjective
quality of the communications medium…(p. 65)
??“a single dimension representing a cognitive
synthesis of all the factors” (p. 65).
??“attitudinal dimension of the user, a ‘mental set’
towards the medium” (p.65).
??“it is phenomenological variable…affected not
simply by the transmission of single non.verbal
cues, but by whole constellations of cues which
affect the ‘apparent distance’ of the other.”
(P.157).
(Gunawardena,
1995; Huang, 1999;
Rice, 1993; Riva &
Galimberti, 1997,
1998; Tammelin,
1998)
Mutual understanding
??“social presence; that is, the ability to make
one's self known under conditions of low media
richness ” (Savicki & Kelley, 2000)
Behavioral engagement
Interdependent,
multichannel exchange
of behaviors (Palmer,
1995)
“VR is compatible with interpersonal
communication to the extent that individuals can
encounter another ‘social presence’ or person
(Heeter, 1992) in a virtual environment, and
effectively negotiate a relationship through an
interdependent, multi-channel exchange of
behaviors” (p. 291) (Huang, 1999)
psychologists, the concept of social presence is used in
a underdefined and unproblematic manner. One can
easily find recent social psychological studies that
prominently feature social presence in their titles but
where social presence itself is largely undertheorized
(Huguet et al., 1999; Soussignan & Schaal, 1996). In
these studies of unmediated interactions social pres-
ence is treated as self-evident: the other simply is or is
not present. This binary “non-definition” is used. We
see this even though there are studies going back al-
most sixty years that indicate the the mere thought of
someone else in other room or the suggestion that
someone is watching has influence on behavior
(Dashiell, 1935; Wapner & Alper, 1952)
Co-presence
It is clear that in mediated interaction social pres-
ence is problematic. The mediated other is not simply
“here or not-here,” but is present to a lesser or greater
degree along some definable continuum. Even in unme-
diated interactions, the simple binary, here-not here
approach to social presence is unsatisfactory. Nowhere
is this made more obvious that in the seminal and in-
sightful work of Ernest Goffman (Goffman, 1959, 1963).
Sensory awareness of the embodied other
Goffman presents a subtle theoretical analysis of
what he called “copresence.” The concept of co-
presence is grounded on the basic sensory awareness of
other.
First, sight begins to take on an added and special
role. Each individual can see that he is being experi-
enced in some way, and he will guide at least some
of his conduct according to the perceived identity
and initial response of his audience. Further, he can
be seen to be seeing this, and can see that he has
been seen seeing this. Ordinarily, then, to use our
naked senses is to use them nakedly and to be made
naked by their use. (Goffman, 1959, p.16)
Emphasis on the senses makes this approach very
amenable to mediated interaction. In mediated interac-
tions the senses of the user are extended to some de-
gree by the technology so that a representation of the
other makes some minimal level of sensory impression.
Goffman makes the additional point that the co-
presence ‘implies the reception of embodied mes-
sages” (p. 15). In mediated interactions the other is fre-
quently embodied by some avatar, agent, or simpler
representational device (Biocca, 1997a; Biocca &
Nowak, 2001).
Even though he focuses on un-mediated percep-
tion, Goffman sees each sensory channel as a medium
for experiencing social presence. He is also sensitive to
the fact that social presence is influenced by subtle
properties of the environment in which the interaction
takes place:
The physical distance over which one person can
experience another with the naked senses-thereby
finding that the other is “within range”-varies ac-
cording to many factors: the sense medium involved,
the presense of obstructions, even the temperature
of the air. (p. 17).
When one emphasizes being in the same space, the
notion of co-presence is similar to presence. A number
of researchers use some variation of social presence as
the notion of being in the same location, space, room,
etc. (Mason, 1994; McLeod, Baron, Marti, & Yoon,
1997; Sallnas, Rassmus-grohn, & Sjostrom, 2000).
Of all the work defining co-presence, Goffman’s is
by far the most subtle, elaborated, and developed even
though is dates back to early 1960s. Goffman’s defini-
tion of co-presence influences the work of many that
follow. In the area of social presence Goffman’s empha-
sis on the sensory accessibility of the embodied other
can be found explicitly in some social presence work
(Biocca & Nowak, 1999, May; Biocca & Nowak, 2001;
Nowak & Biocca, 1999; Nowak & Biocca, 2001).
Mutual Awareness
Goffman suggests that co-presence involves some
level of mutual awareness: “copresence renders per-
sons uniquely accessible, available, and subject to one
another” (p.22). The definitions of co-presence move
into mutual awareness when they emphasize that the
sensory awareness of the other is true for both user/
observer and mediated other. The user is aware of the
mediated other, and the other is aware of user. In
Heeter’s (Heeter, 1992) definition awareness of the
“existence of the other” is accompanied by the other’s
reaction to the self or user. In these definitions the re-
action of the other to the user validates that “they are
there” and aware.
This tends to flow directly into broader, if some-
what weakly explicated versions of co-presence that
simply suggest mutual awareness with the phrase “being
together” (de Greef & IJsselsteijn, 2000; Ho, Basdogan,
Slater, Durlach, & Srinivasan, 2001)
Psychological involvement
The simple presence of another body or even
awareness of it is for many not satisfactory to signify
6
social presence. For example, it is clear that a corpse
may be physically present, but not socially present. In
virtual environments there can be many inert bodies,
representations that are not “inhabited” by intelligence,
human or artificial. Definitions that tend towards mu-
tual awareness suggest the importance of an element
we can label psychological involvement. Biocca’s defini-
tion picks up the key defining element of intentionality
(Dennett, 1987, 1996) to emphasize that social pres-
ence is definable by the sense that one has “access to
another intelligence” (Biocca, 1997b). For Biocca social
presence is activated as soon as a user believes that an
entity of the environment displays some minimal intelli-
gence in its reactions to the environment and the user.
Using this definition it is easy to accommodate the so-
cial interactions that have been documented with com-
mon computer interfaces (Byron Reeves & Clifford
Nass, 1996).
In one of most influential works on social presence,
Short, Williams and Christie (1976) suggest some atten-
tional requirements by emphasizing social presence as
the degree of “salience of the interpersonal relation-
ship” (p. 65). This suggests a definitional need that gets
at the degree of psychological involvement with the
other. Working from his inherently social theory of
“media appropriateness” Rice echoes this aspect of psy-
chological involvenment be echoing Short, Williams and
Christie’s claim that social presence “is fundamentally
related to two social psychology concepts; intimacy and
immediacy” (Rice, 1993, p. 72). In a similar fashion,
Palmer links presence to aspects of psychological in-
volvement with the other:
Although these terms (immediacy, intimacy and in-
volvement) are typically used to descibe behaviors,
it is not difficult to imagine that they also describe a
cognitive state in which individuals feel more or less
directly ‘present’ in the interaction and in the proc-
ess by which relationships are being created
(Palmer, 1995, p.284).
Cognitive states associated with social presence
may inevitably involve some form of mental model of
the other. In the context of social presence theory, Bi-
occa and his colleagues (Biocca, 1997b; Biocca &
Nowak, 2001; Nowak, 2000; Nowak & Biocca, 2001)
have emphasized that a substantial mental model of the
other is activated immediately upon detection of an-
other intelligence. Like the primitive activation of ap-
proach and avoidance reactions, some modeling is nec-
essary to reduce the uncertainty and to model the in-
tentions of the other towards the environment and the
user.
Seeing social presence as the developing mental
model of the other suggests that with interaction there
should be some sense that one has some understanding
of the other, and in cases of higher social presence that
this understanding is mutual. For Savicki (Savicki & Kel-
ley, 2000) the definition of social presence emphasizes
the ability to project a sense of self through the limita-
tions of a medium.
Behavioral engagement
Some definitions of social presence include implicit
or explicit references to some level of behavioral en-
gagement, especially behavioral interaction or synchro-
niziation as an element of social presence. Most social
presence research until the mid-1990s dealth mostly
with low bandwidth media textual media or teleconfer-
encing systems (e.g., Rice, 1993; Rice & Love, 1987; Rice
& Tyler, 1995; Rice, 1992; Short et al., 1976; Steinfield,
1986; Tidwell & Walther, 2000; Walther, 1992;
Walther, Anderson, & Park, 1994; Walther & Burgoon,
1992; Walther, 1996). Most behavior was limited and
rarely extended beyond verbal and non-verbal commu-
nication behavior. Most tasks were highly symbolic re-
lying heavily on verbal interaction. Nonetheless, while
social presence like presence itself is largely a phenome-
nal state, it is sometimes defined as including a behav-
ioral component. Reference is made to levels of behav-
ioral engagement such as eye contract, non-verbal mir-
roring, turn taking, etc.
Immersive virtual environments and computer
games have opened a much wider range of potential
channels for behavior interaction. Writing in the con-
text of VR Palmer’s (Palmer, 1995) definition of social
presence builds on Heeter’s (Heeter, 1992) emphasis
on reaction and interactivity. These seem to acknowl-
edge the desire to include a behavioral component in
the definition. For Palmer, the defintion of social pres-
ence includes “effectively negotiate a relationship
through an interdependent, multi-channel exchange of
behaviors” (Palmer, 1995).
MEASURES OF SOCIAL PRESENCE
While various measures have been proposed, there
is as yet no widely accepted measure of social presence.
In our analysis below, we suggest that a more robust
definition and explication of social presence may be re-
quired to support the development of a measure that
has satisfactory content and construct validity.
Subjective social richness of the medium:
Social presence
Short, Williams & Christie (Short et al., 1976) popu-
7
Table 2
Scales Used to Measure Social Presence
Classification
(key cite)
Description Example
social
presence
studies
Perceived social richness of the medium
Social Presence
(Ho et al., 2001)
??
Social presence is measured using the semantic differential
technique (Osgood, Suci, & Tannenbaum, 1957). Pairs of
items included unsociable-sociable, insensitive-sensitive,
cold-warm, and impersonal-personal.
??
“Media having a high degree of Social Presence are judged
as being warm, personal, sensitive and sociable.” (Short et
al., 1976)p.66
??
Multiple conditions (FtF, audio/video, audio only, written)
(Rice, 1992;
Sallnäs et al.,
2000;
Steinfield,
1986)
IPO Social
Presence (de
Greef &
IJsselsteijn, 2000)
??
Measured social presence according to Short et al. by using
a sematic differential technique on bipolar items such as as
(in)/sensitive, cold/warm, (im)/personal, (un)/sociable,
including items which Short et al. (Short et al., 1976) called
aesthetic appeal (small-large, closed-open, colourless-
colourful, ugly-beautiful
??
7-point Likert scale on agreement with users comments (see
Appendix X)
Involvement, Immediacy, or Intimacy
Immediacy,
Intimacy, &
Involvement
(Burgoon & Hale,
1987)
??
Likert, five point items items in three scales of indicators for
intimacy, involvement and immediacy. Measure whether the
other is perceived to be involved, interested or emotional
about the conversation.
??
Tends to be oriented toward conversational interaction and
includes items on whether or not the interaction partner made
the conversation seem superficial or created a sense of
distance between the interaction partners.
(Nowak, 2000)
Immediacy of the
medium
(Gunawardena &
Zittle, 1997)
??
Longitudinal study using Short et al. (1976) bi-polar scales to
measure “intimacy” of the medium. “…social presence
scale...embodied the concept of “immediacy” as defined in the
literature” p.8
??
Questionnaire items in the social presence scale (see
Appendix X)
Social judgments of the other
...continued on the next page
Social judgments of the other
Social attraction:
Homophily
(McCroskey,
Richmond, &
Daly, 1975)
??7-point metric measures homophily, or social attraction was
modified for the purposes here.
??Includes questions about the extent to which they feel the
other person could “be a friend,” was “pleasant or offensive”
and whether or not the participant “desired a future
interaction.”
(Choi, 2000;
Nowak, 2000)
Single or two item measures
Sense of being
together (Ho et
al., 2001)
??Subjects interacted through a collaborative online game with
a confederate
??Measured “sense of being together” with the two items 1-7
scale (see Appendix X)
SAM Social
Presence (Lang,
1999)
??Single item graphical measure. Shows two circles for self
and other at various levels of distance until they substantially
overlap. Subject indicates which one best represents the
perceived interaction with the other.
Behavioral Measures
Choice behavior
(Heeter, 1992)
??Measured the percentage of participants who preferred
games against the computer only, with or against another
person and what type of experiences respondents would
prefer other social entities.
larized the use of the term social presence in telecom-
munication research in an elaborate book on the topic.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the most used meas-
ure of social presence was created by them.
They use a measure of “the subjective quality of the
communications medium” (p. 65) to measure social
presence. The approach uses a set of semantic differen-
tial scales that capture some of social and emotional
capabilities of the medium. It is important to note that
users are not asked to judge the experience of the
other to indirectly assess the effect the medium. The
use of indicators that ask the respondent to assess the
“experience” rather than the “medium” is more typical
of presence measures. Rather, the respondent is asked
to directly pass judgement on the medium itself. Short,
Williams, and Christie appear to believe that they are
measuring a relatively stable “‘mental set’ towards the
medium” (p. 65). The equivalent approach for a pres-
ence measure would be to ask: How realistic is this me-
dium? as opposed to “How realistic was the experi-
ence?” We will return to this important distinction in
the section on limitations.
Involvement, Immediacy, and Intimacy
Short, Williams, and Christie made explicit refer-
ence to the class literature in interpersonal communica-
tion. This literature specifically identified features of in-
terpersonal communication which they labelled as in-
volvement, intimacy (Argyle, 1965), and immediacy
(Wiener & Hehrabian, 1968). While they referred to
this literature, Short Williams and Christie did not claim
to explicitly measure these constructs. Measures of
these constructs have been used in interpersonal com-
munication literature (e.g.,Burgoon & Hale, 1987). Re-
spondents use Likert-scale items to judge statements
about their partner in an interaction. In the typical
study two or more strangers meet in a room to discuss
a topic or complete a task while some aspect of the in-
teraction is manipulated.
If one considers all social presence to be variable
whether mediated or not, then measures from face-to-
face communication should be useable for mediated
communication. Nowak (Nowak, 2000) adapted the
Burgoon and Hale measure explicitly for use in medi-
ated communication in virtual environments.
Gunwardena (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997) meas-
ures intimacy by blending the kinds of semantic differen-
tial scales used by Short, Williams, & Christie, but struc-
turing them to focus on the intimacy construct.
In general, it is important to note that some of
these measures reflect their origin in face-to-face inter-
personal communication: the language of items assumes
a vocal interaction and emphasizes judgements of the
other.
Social judgements of the other
While measures of involvement, intimacy, and im-
mediacy involve judgements of a specific interaction or
the other’s general communication abilities, some meas-
ures are very explicitly attributional measures of the
other or broad evaluations of the relationship with the
other.
In an effort to specifically move away from judge-
ments of the medium, Nowak (Nowak, 2000) and Choi
(Choi, 2000) used a measure of social attraction, la-
beled homophily (McCroskey, Richmond, & Daly, 1975)
to measure the user’s perception of avatars and agents
in virtual environments. This measure attempts to cap-
ture the sense of feeling similar or close to the other.
Behavioral measures
Behavioral measures are common in studies of
face-to-face interactions. Some of the verbal markers or
non-verbal indicators such as facial expression may be
indicative of social presence. More commonly non-
verbal behaviors such as proximity to the other are
used as dependent variables or independent variables in
studies of social interaction.
We can find few examples of the use of behavioral
measures explicitly as a measure of social presence.
Heeter’s study of choice behavior was explicitly inter-
ested media selection as an indicator of social presence.
LIMITATIONS OF CONCEPTUALIZATIONS AND
MEASURES OF SOCIAL PRESENCE.
This article started had its origins in a lab review
conducted in preparation to developing the Networked
Minds Measure of Social Presence. We searched for:
(1) More detailed and comprehensive definition and
conceptualization of social presence, one that might
provide a more robust and insightful tool for comparing
media and assessing social interaction in mediated envi-
ronments.
(2) A robust measure of social presence that would
meet the “design requirements” of all criteria and scope
conditions listed below for a theory of social presence
and,
(3) measures that exhibit reliability, content and
construct validity.
10
To move forward, we needed to assess limitations
in current theories and measures of social presence.
What follows is our evaluation.
Limitations in definitional explication and
measurement specification
While intuitive, the concept of social presence can
be hard to define in a way that best supports the range
of phenomenon and the needs of measurement. A com-
mon limitation appears to be definitions of social pres-
ence that are stated too broadly and too vaguely to
provide adequate guidance on the measurement of so-
cial presence. For example, we and others have some-
times defined social presence as “the sense of being
with another” or the “sense of being together” in a vir-
tual environment. While this can be useful as a short-
hand communication, it is inadequate as a definition. It
merely restates the idea of social presence in different
words without significant concept explication. Such defi-
nitions add marginally to our understanding of the con-
cept. Their lack of explication and detail fails to provide
guidance to prepare and delimit the scope of the con-
cept for measurement.
The opposite problem, of course, is to claim almost
all aspects of social interaction and judgement to be
“social presence.” We address this issue below in the
section on “Confounding of boundary between social
presence and the correlates or effects of social pres-
ence.”
Limitations in the technological scope of
social presence theorizing or measure-
ment.
Most researchers would agree that social presence
is phenomenon that is independent of a specific tech-
nology and that one can experience some level of social
presence with most media. But many theories and
measures of social presence are constructed by re-
searcher to address an issue in a specific technology:
F2F interaction, email systems, teleconferencing sys-
tems, or virtual environments. Researchers may create
a theory, or more typically, develop a measurement in-
strument that is specifically suited to the technology
they are studying.
The fundamental problem with these measures is
that the items are constructed so that they make as-
sumptions about technology:
???????Assumptions about sensory channels supported by
the technology (display devices) (i.e., “How well did
you see the other.” “I could see the other on the
screen.” )
???????Assumptions about input devices (i.e., “The other
listened do what I said.” Assumes audio input).
???????Assumptions about the virtual environment. (i.e., “I
felt close to the others in the virtual room.”)
These items and measures constructed from them
cannot be easily generalized to use other media. Most
importantly they effectively preclude cross-media com-
parisons, and therefore defeat one of the key goals of
the social presence theory and research.
Limitations in the scope of interactions that
can be accommodated by the theory and
measure.
A lot of research on social presence is done in set-
tings in which impression formation or organizational
tasks such as collaboration are the norm. As a result
some theories and measures assume a specific class of
interactions: collaboration, goal of “liking” the other,
etc. The measurement of social presence is designed to
assume a specific kind of goal, social interaction, or task.
Therefore, the same theories and measures cannot be
used to measure social presence in other types of inter-
actions, goals, or tasks. For example, is it not possible
to feel that the other is very socially present in hostile
or competitive interactions such as those found in some
computer games. For example, if someone is five feet
from you in a immersive virtual environment, sneering,
and pointing a gun directly at your head, can we say that
the individual was not “socially present” because the
measure indicated that you, the respondent, did not
“like them” “feel as if you could cooperate with this
person” “would like to repeat this interaction” etc.
Such conceptualizations and their measures fail to sat-
isfy the content and construct validity of social pres-
ence.
Confounding of boundary between social
presence and the correlates or effects of
social presence.
Some theories seem to have a unclear boundary
between the sensation of social presence, for example
an awareness and focus on the co-location of a medi-
ated other, and some effects or correlates of social
presence, for example, liking the other (i.e., mutuality).
We assume that like presence, social presence is a phe-
nomenal state varying during the course of interaction.
It is a temporary judgement of the nature of interaction
with the other as limited by the medium.
11
But clearly there is a boundary between this tem-
porary and fluctuating state over the course of an inter-
action, and some longer-term judgement one might
make about the other. What one feels, for example,
about the President of the United States should be in-
dependent on how present you might feel with him
should you have the fortune of communicating with him
via an email, a telephone call, a teleconference, or a
face-to-face meeting. Measures of longer-term atti-
tudes about the interaction agent, in this case the Presi-
dent, need to be kept somewhat independent of tempo-
rary judgments of social presence with the interactant.
While we do not pretend that the boundary is
clear, some measures that we ourselves have used, such
as the homophilly measure (how similar you feel to the
other) clearly cross the line towards variables that are
likely to be correlates or effects of social presence.
Problems and limitations in measures that
rely on direct evaluation of the medium
When we measure social presence, what are we
measuring?: (1) the fluctuating phenomenal properties
of a communication interaction, or (2) the stable prop-
erties of a medium. Many telecommunication and hu-
man-computer interaction researchers are interested in
the latter. But we would submit that we are measuring
the former, a fluctuating phenomelogical state that var-
ies with medium, knowledge of the other, content of
the communication, environment, and social context.
Short Williams and Christie (1976) is by far the
most cited reference in this area and the measure is the
most widely used. But the approach to measurement
used by Short Williams and Christie may have some
limitations and flaws. The measure reflects the goals of
their original funded studies. The UK post office, De-
partment of Transportation, General Electric, and other
organizations funded their earlier studies to determine
the relative effectiveness of different media channels for
social communication. In some ways, they conceptual-
ized the measure as a business consumer’s “attitude
about a medium” and its use for negotiation, persua-
sion, and other forms of organizational communication
This is based on the fair assumption that individuals
have certain attitudes towards media channels and what
they consider appropriate for social presence. They
considered social presence to be unidimensional
“quality of the medium” and not the interaction of indi-
vidual differences, task, and environmental context:
(Social presence) is conceived of as unidimensional
but considered to be ‘a perceptual or attitudinal di-
mension of the user…{and thus is} a subjective qual-
ity of the medium.’ (Short et al., 1976 p.650)
Therefore, the measure asks respondent to directly
evaluate the properties of medium for social presence.
But does this approach lead to sensitive and reliable
measure of social presence. It has been demonstrated in
several studies (e.g., Nichols, 1984) that respondents
cannot reliably identify what is the cause of their atti-
tudes. It is not clear that they can directly introspect to
make a judgment of how well a medium “causes their
social presence.” If the goal is to get a direct measure
of the medium, it is likely that such a measure would be
valid. Various other aspects of the interaction are likely
to color the respondents perception of the “social
presence capabilities” of the medium.
This measure appears to be concerned with the
extent to which a person perceives a medium as capa-
ble of allowing a sense of social presence. The judg-
ment being made is to what extent did you perceive the
medium as unsociable-sociable, insensitive-sensitive,
cold-warm, and impersonal-personal. Media appropri-
ateness (Rice, 1993) appears on face value to be a more
accurate fit than social presence.
This measure appears to be concerned with the
extent to which a person perceives a medium as capa-
ble of allowing a sense of Social Presence. The judg-
ment being made is to what extent did you perceive the
medium as unsociable-sociable, insensitive-sensitive,
cold-warm, and impersonal-personal. Media appropri-
ateness (Rice, 1993) appears on face value to be a more
accurate fit than social presence.
This suggests that a measure of social presence
should be based on items that measure phenomenal
state of social presence, that is properties of the com-
munication interaction specifically rather than direct
attributions about medium per se.
CRITERIA, SCOPE CONDITIONS, AND GUIDING
SCENARIOS FOR A THEORY OF SOCIAL PRESENCE
Above we suggested that a theory and measure of
social presence is needed to help us understand, ex-
plain, and measure the sense of connection of users
with real and artificial others in networked environ-
ments. We have reviewed some of the conceptualiza-
tions and measures of social presence and discussed
some possible limitations. Many of the limitations can be
traced to problems in defining the scope and nature of
the phenomenon of social presence as it pertains to
telecommunication.
What we propose is the need for a theory of social
presence that explicates and operationalizes the con-
12
Table 3
Scope Conditions for a Theory of Social Presence
Criterion Scope and boundaries Guiding Scenarios
Media-centered
Theory:
Focus on
Technologically
Mediated
Interpersonal
Interactions
To support human-computer interaction
studies and mediated communication
studies, the theory of mediated social
presence should be primarily theory of
how differences in technological
connection, representations, and
mediated access affects, distorts, or
enhances the perception (mental model)
of others’ intentional, cognitive, and
affective states. Nonetheless, a theory of
mediated social presence is likely to make
use of philosophical and psychological
theories of other minds and theories of
interpersonal communication, and be able
to contribute to these areas.
??Researcher wants to classify
interfaces according to the
degree to which they facilitate
social presence.
Measurement
Orientation
To achieve a metric of communication
effectiveness a theory of social presence
should be tied to measurement.
Therefore, the theory should define the
phenomenon of social presence in way
that is suitable to measurement.
??Researcher wants to directly
compare the performance of two
interfaces on how users perceive
their communication with the
collaborator using the different
systems.
Span different
classes and
generations of
communication
technology.
Ideally, the same measurement
instrument should be able to measure
social presence across a very wide range
of media from the least interactive (e.g.,
pictures, voice recordings), to high-
bandwidth telepresence systems that
simulate face-to-face interaction.
To insure the ability to support cross-
media and cross-interface comparisons,
the social presence measure should be
useable without need for significant
alteration or adaptation to be used with
any interface old, new, or not yet created.
??A person feels a change in
social presence from cell phone
to video teleconferencing.
??Individual feels social presence
while observing a sculpture.
??An individual feels enhanced
social presence in a face-to-face
interaction while wearing
technology that gives them
access to the physiological
responses of the other such as
their heart-rate, blood pressure,
skin-conductance, etc.
...continued on the next page
Accommodate
various kinds of
mediated
interactions
The theory and associated measure
should accommodate and measure
social presence for a wide range of
interactions: from the casual-and-
passing to the formal-or-intimate; from
collaboration-to-struggle; from one-to-
one, as well as one-to-many
interactions, etc.
The measure should not break down
at the extremes of interaction such as
social presence in very familiar or
intimate interactions such as two
lovers communicating in an immersive
environment or in highly hostile
interactions such as a predator-prey
interaction with a virtual character in a
computer war game.
??A work team tries to get to
know each other at the
beginning of a project.
??A child feels terror at the
presence of a monster in a
computer game.
??Two old friends meet in an
immersive virtual
environment.
??A tactile device is used in a
mediated-sexual interaction.
Span interactions
with human and
non-human
others
Media transmit representations of all
kinds of seemingly intelligent entities.
Therefore a theory and measure of
social presence should accommodate
an individual’s sense of social
presence with all forms of mediated
intelligence: humans, humanoid
artificial intelligence, robotic devices,
non-humanoid characters, agents, and
beings.
??User feels social presence
when interacting with
automated ticketing agent at
an e-commerce website.
??A user feels that his or her
computer has “intentions” and
a typo-here personality.
Apply to “real”
and “illusory”
social
interactions.
A theory and measure of social
presence should be applicable to an
individual’s sense of social presence
not only in willed social interactions,
but even when there is no interaction,
when the individual is “communicating”
(parasocial interaction) with an
imagined other or when “no other” or
no intelligence is objectively aware,
present, or responding to the
interactant.
??An individual talks to his TV
set.
??An individual continues to
feel an avatar is interacting
when the human controlling
the avatar is no longer
connected to his embodied
shell.
??A use feels she is
communicating a “God” or
being (or any entity that may
or may not be there).
cept in such a way that it provides the basis for under-
standing, explaining, predicting, measuring, and control-
ling (designing) social presence. A theory of social pres-
ence cannot pretend to answer fundamental epistemo-
logical issues in the knowledge of other minds
(Carruthers & Smith, 1996; Dennett, 1987, 1996;
Gordon, 1986; Premack & Premack, 1996), although a
robust theory of social presence should certainly en-
gage these issues.
If the goal is a theory that supports a robust meas-
ure of social presence, it might be valuable to specify
criteria and scope conditions. By scope conditions we
mean:
? specify the range of phenomenon we seek to un-
derstand,
? delimit the range of causal relationships of the phe-
nomenon we seek to explain,
? determine what behavior or attitudes the theory
and measure may seek to predict
? determine the range of the theory and predictions,
? and, finally, suggest how the theory may provide
guidance for design of environments that control
qualities of social presence users experience.
In the table below we set out to define what might
be the scope conditions of a theory of social presence
in mediated environments. These might be thought of a
“design criteria” for a theory and measure of social
presence.
To flush out and better specify these criteria, we
provide definitions and “guiding scenarios.” The
“guiding scenarios” are examples of interactions that
illustrate the fully range or the kinds of interactions that
need to be understood and the level of social presence
that would need to be measurable. These guiding sce-
narios represent “boundary cases” that specify the
range of condition, interactions, and experiences that a
theory of social presence should allow us to explain and
measure.
SECTION SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
We have identified a need for a theory of social
presence in a technological environment where the
Internet and virtual environments become increasing
social. A robust and detailed theory and measure of so-
cial presence could contribute to our understanding and
explaining social behavior in mediated environments,
allow researchers to predict and measure differences
among media interfaces, and guide the design of new
social environments and interfaces. The article re-
viewed, classified, and critiqued existing theories and
measures of social presence. We ended by proposing a
set of criteria and scope conditions to address weak-
nesses in past theories and measure and to provide
clear criteria for a measurement theory of social pres-
ence.
15
Acknowledgements
We would like to acknowledge the contribution of
Tony Vitrano who participated in the early discussions.
This work was supported in part by grants from the
National Science Foundation 61-2032 ITR and MSU
Foundation, Strategic Partnership.
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