Date of Award

8-2010

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

John C. Sherblom

Second Committee Member

Eric E. Peterson

Third Committee Member

Lesley A. Withers

Abstract

The present study extends previous online social support literature by examining the supportive messages found within the Alcoholics Anonymous, Cancer Caregiver and Transgender Identity social support groups within the virtual world of Second Life. Ten Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, 9 Cancer Caregiver meetings and 10 Transgender Identity meetings were recorded and analyzed. Group meetings were coded by utterance based on the social support construct created by Cutrona & Suhr (1992) which codes for tangible, informational, emotional, network and esteem messages. Messages that did not fit into any of the categories were coded as non supportive messages. Statistical analysis revealed significant effects for support between all three groups. The optimal match theory was supported for the majority of the groups by support types. Notable differences involved informational support in the Alcoholics Anonymous group, tangible and esteem support in the Cancer Caregiver group and tangible, emotional and esteem support in the Transgender Identity group. These differences are attributed to use of the Second Life medium as well as the coding of the event that the social support group is based on as either controllable or uncontrollable. Ultimately this study adds to current literature by suggesting that participants in the Alcoholics Anonymous, Cancer Caregiver and Transgender Identity social support groups in Second Life are not seeking the same type of social support as individuals participating in online bulletin boards. Participants in the Second Life support groups are seeking greater amounts of network and esteem social support than their counterparts using other computer-mediated environments. This extends the optimal match theory by showing different groups seek social support within the virtual world of Second Life for different types of support than bulletin boards. Additionally, this study challenges the operationalization of controllability within the optimal match theory by looking at it at both the group and individual levels. Finally, the present study looks at three diverse groups over the same period of time using the same methodology. Other studies have focused on either similar groups or have looked at a variety of groups as reported by other studies using a variety of methodologies.

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