2011. Vol.2, No.4, 359-362
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.24056
The Predictive Effects of Online Communication on
Well-Being among Chinese Adolescents
Jinliang Wang1, Haizhen Wang2
1Southwestern University, Chongqing, China;
2Chongqing Youth Vocational and Technical College, Chongqing, China.
Email: WJL200789@163.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Received March 7th, 2011; revised April 18th, 2011; accepted May 22nd, 2011.
Based on theories and previous studies on online communication, we proposed two hypotheses to better under-
stand the effects of online communication on subjective well-being with a sample of Chinese adolescents (n =
190). The results of liner regression analysis found that online communication was positively related to adoles-
cents’ subjective well-being. For boys, the coefficient of determination of online communication on subjective
well-being was .143, and for girls the coefficient of determination was .040, indicating that boys benefit more
from online communication than do girls.
Keywords: Online Communication, Subjective Well-Being, Adolescent
Internet has significantly changed our way of living, com-
municating, and information seeking in the last decade. As a
defining Internet user group, adolescents are more apt to online
communication because of their developmental stage. Accord-
ing to an investigation by China Internet Network Information
Center (CINIC) (2009), there are 384 million Internet users in
China, 50.7% of which are adolescents (below 25 years). How-
ever, it is surprising that researchers have not given enough at-
tention to such a large Internet user group, with only a few stud-
ies having been conducted on Chinese adolescents’ online
communication. Online communication, such as Instant Mes-
saging, Internet-based chat-room, and social network sites, has
been suggested to have obvious impact on users’ subjective
well-being, especially for adolescents due to their curiosity
about new emerging technologies and their developmental stage.
Many researchers have examined the association between
adolescents’ online communication and subjective well-being
(Carden & Rettew, 2006; Schiffrin, Edelman, Falkenstern, &
Stewart, 2010; Valkenburg & Peter, 2007). However, so far no
consistent conclusions have been made. A review on literature
reveals that at least two theoretical perspectives exist regarding
the effects of online communication on users’ well-being: the
displacement hypothesis and the augmentation hypothesis. The
displacement hypothesis asserts that time spent using a given
medium replaces that spent using other mediators (Nie, Hilly-
gus, & Erbring, 2002; Shklovski, Kraut, & Rainie, 2004), im-
plying that online communication users have spent time in
online settings rather than offline situations and then their sub-
jective well-being would be harmed (Morgan & Cotten, 2003;
Nie, Hillygus, & Erbring, 2002; Nie, 2001; Weiser, 2001). For
example, Kraut et al. (1998) suggested that online communica-
tion users substitute weak ties for strong ones, implying that
Internet motivates adolescents to form online contacts with
strangers, instead of maintaining relationships with existing
friends. The online contacts, which are characterized by super-
ficial weak-tie relationships, are thought to reduce the quality of
adolescents’ existing friendships and their well-being.
The augmentation hypothesis holds that certain medium of
communication can facilitate the use of others (Katz & Rice,
2002; Turke, 1995). Specifically, the use of e-mail or Instant
Messaging may improve face-to-face interaction and promote
users’ well-being (Morgan & Cotten, 2003; Shaw & Gant, 2002;
Valkenburg & Peter, 2007). For instance, using a sample of
1,210 Dutch teenagers between 10 and 17 years of age, Val-
kenburg and Peter (2007) found that Instant Messaging, which
was mostly used to communicate with existing friends, is a
significant predictor of users’ subjective well-being.
Aside from studies supporting the augmentation or displace-
ment hypothesis, there are also studies reporting no significant
associations between online communication and subjective
well-being (Gross, 2004; Jackson et al., 2004; Kraut, 2002;
LaRose, Ghuay, & Boivin, 2002; Mesch, 2001, 2003; Sanders,
Field, Diego, & Kaplan, 2000; Waestlund, Norlander, & Archer,
2001). Current literature lack research data about online commu-
nication in China, especially in sample of adolescents. Our re-
search studies Internet communication in a sample of Chinese
adolescents with the goal of understanding the relationship be-
tween online communication and subjective well-being.
Earlier research suggested that online communication would
reduce adolescents’ social connectedness and well-being (Kraut
et al., 1998). Researchers holding this idea believed that Inter-
net motivates adolescents to form superficial online relationship
with strangers, to spend more time with online strangers rather
than friends in reality world, and then harm their interpersonal
relationships and well-being (Kraut et al., 1998). This assumed
relationship between online communication and quality of
friendship were supported by some studies (Kraut et al., 1998).
However, in recent studies, it has been found that, when users
communicate with their existing friends, online communication
can enhance the interaction between users and promote their
well-being (Morgan & Cotten, 2003; Shaw & Gant, 2002; Val-
A. PÉREZ ET AL.
kenburg & Peter, 2007). It may be that, at the initial stage of
online communication technology, users mainly use it for
communication with strangers because of their curiosity on new
emerging technology. Yet in recent years, it has been found that
users mostly communicate with existing friends through Inter-
net, which will promote their closeness to their friends and then
improve their subjective well-being. Therefore, in our study, we
put forward our first hypothesis that online communication will
promote users’ subjective well-being.
Compared with adolescent girls, adolescent boys tend to
have a deeper and wider self-disclosure in online settings than
in offline settings (Schouten, Valkenburg, & Peter, 2007). Self-
disclosure is thought to be an important factor that has a posi-
tive influence on individuals’ interpersonal relationship and
well-being (Berndt, 2002). Adolescent boys usually face more
inhibitions when disclosing themselves in offline settings than
adolescent girls do. In online settings, where factors that might
cause uneasiness in communication (e.g., audio/visual cues) are
removed, adolescent boys will be more likely to disclose them-
selves better. Relevant studies have found that Internet use may
have different effects on boys and girls. Using a sample of 85
Israeli university students, Amichai-Hamburger and Ben-Artzi
(2003) found that the correlations between social, informational,
leisure Internet use and loneliness were .01, .001, and −.28 for
males, and .38, .18, and −.04 for females. Cooper (2003) ob-
tained that the correlation coefficient between depression and
Internet use was .47 for boys and .22 for girls. In the present
study, we put forward our second hypothesis that online com-
munication will have a bigger effect on subjective well-being
for boys than for girls.
Procedure and Participants
The data were gathered in four classes of approximately 60
participants each. After obtaining informed consent, partici-
pants were given 45 minutes to complete the paper-and-pencil
questionnaire. All participants were treated according to the
ethical guidelines of the American Psychological Association
The participants were 190 adolescents (87 boys, 103 girls)
from a small vocational school in the southwest area of China.
Adolescents ranged in age from 15 to 19 years (M = 16.64, SD
= 1.22). 73% were from urban areas while 27% were from
countryside areas. Approximately 83% were Han majority,
while 9% were Tujia minority, 8% were Miao minority. These
demographics represent the student population at this school.
We measured online communication with four adapted ques-
tions that have been used in Valkenburg and Peters’ study
(2006): a) “On weekdays (Monday to and including Friday),
how many days do you usually use QQ1?” b) “On the weekdays
(Monday to and including Friday) that you use QQ, how long
Descriptive data for online c ommunication and subjecti v e w el l -being.
Group Online communication Subjective well-being
M SD M SD
Overall 12.30 10.50 3.52 .79
Boys 11.40 9.83 4.75 .85
Girls 13.07 11.03 3.68 .71
do you then usually use it?” c) “During weekends (Saturday
and Sunday), how many days do you usually use QQ?” The
response options were: 1) only on Saturday; 2) only on Sun-
day; 3) on both days; and 4) I do not use QQ on the weekends.
If respondents selected response options 1 to 3 in the question
on QQ weekend use, they were asked the following questions
for Saturday and /or Sunday: d) “On a Saturday (Sunday), how
long do you usually use QQ?” Respondents’ QQ use per week
was calculated by multiplying the number of days per week that
they used QQ (range 0 through 7) by the number of minutes
they used it on each day. This operationalization of weekly time
spent with a medium has been proven valid for children older
than 9 (Vander Voort & Vooijs, 1990).
The Subjective Well-Being Scale is used in order to measure
university students’ subjective well-being. This scale developed
by Tuzgöl-Dost (2005). Internal reliability for the Subjective
Wel-Being Scale was a Cronbach-alfa coefficient of .93. Test
re-test reliability yielded a correlation coefficient of r = .86
(Tuzgöl-Dost, 2006). In the present study, a Chinese edition of
this scale was acquired through a translation and retranslation
process. It has a Cronbach-alfa coefficient of .89 in the present
The adolescents in the sample reported that they used online
communication on average for 12.31 hours a week. No gender
differences were found (males = 11.40 9.83; females = 13.07
11.03 hours/week; t = 1.09, p < .05) (please see Table 1).
Most of the respondents (67%) indicated that they mainly use
QQ for communication with existing friends.
Regression Coefficients of Online Communication on
A liner regression analysis was performed with the score on
online communication as the independent variable and the sub-
jective well-being score as the dependent variable. A significant
model emerged (F = 11.986, p < .001, r2 = .060,
= .25) in
which the online communication score was demonstrated to be
a positive predictor of online self-disclosure.
Coefficients of Determination of Online
Communication on Subjective Well-Being
among Girls and Boys
1To Tencent QQ, generally referred to as QQ, is the most popular free
instant messaging computer program in Mainland China. As of September
30, 2010, the active QQ users’ accounts for QQ IM amounted to 636.6
million, possibly making it the world’s largest online community.
To make a further understanding on the relationship between
online communication and subjective well-being, another two
linear regression analysis were performed to examine the pre-
A. PÉREZ ET AL. 361
dictive effects of online communication on subjective well-
being among girls and boys respectively. Following the re-
commendation of Cohen (1994), Rosenthal (1995) and Schmidt
(1996), the coefficients of determination, namely r2 values, will
be used in interpreting the “research significance” or impor-
tance of the relationships. Specifically, a decision was made to
only interpret as “meaningful” r2 values that were greater
than .050. Thus, at least 5% of the online self-disclosure vari-
ance had to be explained for an effect to be interpreted as “im-
portant”. There are a number of advantages to using the coeffi-
cient of determination in interpreting the value or importance of
findings. First, use of this effect size index focuses attention on
variance explained and hence helps researchers “honest” by
reducing the temptation to inappropriately inflate or deflate the
importance of findings. Cohen (1994) noted that these tenden-
cies are sometimes all too common in studies that depend on
interpretation of p values alone. In addition, because r2 serves
as an index of relative strength, its use allows researchers to
meaningfully compare and contrast effect sizes. For example, if
an r2 for the association between online communication and
online self-disclosure is .10 for females and .05 for males, one
can conclude that the magnitude of the relationship is twice as
strong for females as compared to males. In the former case,
10% of the variance is accounted for, while in the latter case
only 5% of the variance is accounted for.
In the present study, the results showed that, for boys, the
coefficient of determination of online communication on sub-
jective well-being was .143; while for girls, the regression co-
efficient of online communication on subjective well-being
was .040. The coefficient of determination for boys was almost
five times of that for girls, indicating that boys’ online commu-
nication has a more important role on their subjective well-
being than that for girls.
In consistent with recent studies (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007),
the present study found that adolescents mainly use Internet
Messaging for communication with existing friends. Partici-
pants reported that they spent an average of 12.31 hours last
week on online communication, with 67% indicating that they
use Internet to communicate with their existing friends. For
boys, they spent an average of 11.40 hours on online commu-
nication while for girls they spent an average of 13.07 hours on
it last week. No gender difference was found on the mean time
of online communication (t = 1.09, p > .05).
The main purpose of this study was to examine the predictive
effect of online communication on subjective with a sample of
Chinese adolescents. In the present study, participants spending
more time on online communication reported higher level of
subjective well-being (F = 11.986, p < .001, r2 = .060,
a finding that has supported our first hypothesis and is consis-
tent with previous studies which have found that online com-
munication is positively related to users’ well-being (Boneva,
Quinn, Kraut et al., 2006; Coleman, Paternite, & Sherman,
1999; Gross, Juvonen, & Gable, 2002; Joinson, 2001; Tidwell
& Walther, 2002). It may be that, online communication with
existing friends can promote users’ interaction in offline set-
tings, which could strengthen their closeness to friends and
improve their subjective well-being.
A further analysis reveals that boys can profit more from
online communication than girls do, which has supported our
second hypothesis. For boys the coefficient of determination
was .143 and for girls .040. This finding is in keeping with
previous relevant studies which have found that the correlation
coefficient between Internet use and well-being were larger for
boys than for girls (Copper, 2003). The finding that adolescent
boys benefit more from online communication may be caused
by the reason that adolescent boys tend to disclose themselves
better than do adolescent girls in online settings. Self-disclosure
has been proposed as an important factor influencing individu-
als’ well-being. It has been found that respondents who report-
ing high level of self-disclosure tend to score higher on well-
being measurement (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007). Compared
with adolescent girls, adolescent boys usually face more inhibit-
tions when disclosing themselves in offline settings, and when
they are in online settings, they can disclose themselves better
because the reduced audiovisual cues make them feel less un-
easiness. In this line, online communication has more impact on
well-being for boys than for girls.
This study is one of the first to explore predictive effects of
online communication on users’ subjective well-being with a
sample that typically using Instant Message in China. Also this
is one of the first to find that online communication has differ-
ent extent of effects on subjective well-being for boys and girls.
Despite the strengths, the results of this study should be viewed
in light of some limitations. First, the sample used in this study
is a relatively small and homogeneous group of students at a
small vocational school. Therefore cautions should be made
when the conclusions in this study are generalized to other
populations. Second, the data were obtained from a cross-sec-
tion design, which prevents the determination of casual rela-
tionships. Third, in this study, participants were asked to recall
their online communication occurring last week, the memory
bias is unavoidable. In the future study, researchers should
consider using a qualitative approach aimed at complementing
survey data, to better understand the association between online
communication and subjective well-being. Additionally, ex-
perimental and longitudinal studies should be conducted to
provide stronger evidence on the associations among variables
examined in this study. Last, it should be noticed that it is not
the case that online communication always has positive impact
on users’ subjective well-being. As researchers have suggested,
online communication can have a positive influence on quality
of friendship and well-being only when it is used for commu-
nication with existing friends (Bessière et al., 2008; Valkenburg
& Peter, 2007). When online communication is used for con-
versation with strangers, however, the Internet users` friendship
might be negatively impacted (Valkenburg & Jochen, 2009).
1) Online communication with existing friends has a positive
effect on adolescents’ subjective well-being.
2) Online communication with existing friends has a bigger
positive effect on subjective well-being for boys than for girls.
A. PÉREZ ET AL.
The present study was supported by the Key Project ‘Ante-
cedents and Social Consequences of Online Communication
among Adolescents’ at Key Humanity Social Science Research
Institute in Chongqing. Thank the two anonymous reviewers
for their valuable suggestions on the manuscript.
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