Sociology Mind
2011. Vol.1, No.2, 65-73
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/sm.2011.12008
Group Dynamics in On-Line and Face-to-Face Interactions: An
Experimental Study on Learning Methods
Sergio Severino, Roberta Messina
University of Enna, Kore, Italy.
Received February 2nd, 2011; revised February 21st, 2011; accepted March 2nd, 2011.
Organizing in groups does not represent an objective definition, but rather a way to better understand the mean-
ing of plurality. At the same time modern technologies modify perceptive and cognitive transformation. This re-
search shows that on-line groups develop objective dynamics in face-to-face groups; it evaluates the quality of
the University student services and studies the dynamics of the creation of face-to-face and on-line groups. Stu-
dents were divided into experimental on-line (forum, chat, newsgroup) and face-to-face encounters (seminars,
laboratories). The two level analyses show the defence mechanisms, the lack of socialization attitudes and the
tolerance of differences that characterized on-line groups. The new technologies open new horizons and cogni-
tive functions.
Keywords: Face to face, Alternative Community, Post-modern, Group, Disembodying, Social-network.
Internet users are currently accounting for 24.7% of the
global population. From 2000 on, this figure has grown by
362.3% (, 2009), following a pro-
gressive reinforcement in the relationship between information
technologies and traditional processes of communication (see
Table 1, Figure 1). Communication through computers travels
in a parallel dimension to that of the traditional interactive
face-to-face processes.
When people use Internet to communicate or create relations
with others, they are able to satisfy the same important personal
and social needs that generally are welcomed through tradi-
tional relationships: among these, for example, one can find the
need to belong to a group. Belonging to a group, in fact, does
not simply mean finding oneself at the same point of encounter:
Turner (1982) believed that defining oneself as a part of a
group is sufficient for determining ones unique existence. So-
cial groups, in fact, do not represent an objective condition of
socialization but rather an idea of social plurality; therefore the
behavior of a person in a group derives from a synergy between
its representation as a plurality and the two principle dimen-
sions of identity: individual and social.
The group is a very important part of human existence, since
it represents the privileged context in which individuals grow,
work, play and build their identities. Clearly the functional
processes that distinguish the type of groups vary with the
varying of the number of components. The behavior of each
component varies according to the functional dynamics of the
entire group.
Lewin (1951) defined human behavior as a dynamic process
determined by the interaction of forces present in the psycho-
logical context, created by people and the environment; the
following function illustrates its characteristics:
B = f (E, P)
where B is individual behavior, E the Environment and P the
Person. This formula can be extended to group behavior: from
the interaction between psychological areas of individuals who
belong to the same life environment, one will obtain a unique
social reference point whose dynamics derive from the interact-
tion of the totality of groups and the external environment.
The group (and its behavior) represents a dynamic totality
whose endogenous and exterior factors appear to be tied to each
other. This connection forms an organic system where every-
thing intersects and refers uniquely to itself showing organiza-
tion or structure according to a specific modality both con-
sciously and unconsciously but no less important in a group
level exchange.
With the classical definition a group is something different-
from the sum of its members: it has its own structure, its own
particular goals and its own relations with the other groups.
What makes the essence of a group is not the resemblance or
non resemblance found among the members of a group, but the
interdependence among its own members.
Lewin points out that the group recognizes itself on the basis
of the principle of interdependence and that therefore finishes
with perceiving a certain group identity that gives meaning to
the life of the group and reflects a subjective involvement
which helps form one’s personality.
The group can be assimilated to a system made up by inter
Figure 1.
World internet users by world regione.
Table 1.
World internet usage and population status.
World Regions Population (2009
Internet Users Dec.
Internet Users
Latest Date
Penetration (%
2000-2009 Users % of Table
Africa 991,002,342 4,514,400 67,371,700 6.8% 1,392.4% 3.9%
Asia 3,808,070,503 114,304,000 738,257,230 19.4% 545.9% 42.6%
Europe 803,850,858 105,096,093 418,029,796 52.0% 297.8% 24.1%
Middle East 202,687,005 3,284,800 57,425,046 28.3% 1,648.2% 3.3%
North America 340,831,831 108,096,800 252,908,000 74.2% 134.0% 14.6%
Latin America/Caribbean 586,662,468 18,068,919 179,031,479 30.5% 890.8% 10.3%
Oceania/Australia 34,700,201 7,620,480 20,970,490 60.4% 175.2% 1.2%
WORLD TOTAL 6,767,805,208 360,985,492 1,733,933,741 25.6% 380.3% 100.0%
NOTES:(1) Internet Usage and world Population Statistics are for September 30,2009; (2) CLICK on each world region name for detailed regional usage information; (3)
Demographic (Population) numbers are based on data from the US Census Bureau; (4) Internet usage information comes from data published by Nielsen Online, by the
International Telecommunicalions Union, by GfK, local Regulators and other reliable sources; (5) For definitions, disclaimer, and navigation help, please refer to the Site
Surfing Guide; (6) Information in this site may be cited, giving the due credit to Copyright © 2001-2009, Miniwatts Marketing Group, All
rights reserved worldwide.
agent and interdependent units that form a greater integrated
and complex unit.
An important aspect in defining groups regards the difficulty
in distinguishing theoretically between small and large groups
Asch (Asch, 1952 [1974, p. 281]) for example stated that the
term group is very general and refers to fundamentally different
relations among things and facts, since the references to which
the word group associates itself are very different.
Tajifel (1976, p. 22) in agreeing with the fact that the term
group was too vague, wanted to distinguish between the social
group and the small face-to-face groups. In the first case the
author says that the social group is a cognitive entity full of
meaning for people who belong to that group, while in the sec-
ond case the reference is the face to face relation among a cer-
tain number of individuals.
Cooley also Cooley (1909, p. 24) distinguished, at the begin-
ning of the foundation process of Social Psychology, between
primary and secondary groups. The primary group, according to
the author, is characterized by a relation of face to face coop-
eration, by personal ties between its members, by an atmos-
phere of warmth and intimacy, and by the sharing of mutual
goals. Instead in the secondary groups the members interact on
a less intimate level respect to the primary groups. The second
dary group is based on the sharing of interests and on carrying
out activities; they are at the base of fundamental relations for
the building of an identity.
From a sociological point of view Durkheim identified in the
social group an alternative to the hypertrophic state, which
implies the control of a society composed by an infinite number
of disorganized members. People who realize to have common
interests unite, according to the author, not only to support and
defend their interests but also to share a common feeling, to
become as one from a multitude that they were, that is to lead
as one the same moral life. Durkheim (Durkheim, 1893 [1971,
p. 33]) We have to differentiate the macro and micro social
meaning of the groups. From a sociological point of view, the
concept of a group refers to extended social group, that is an
entity with a non defined amplitude: it complies social action
and membership of the single individual, since it is the condi-
tion for the social life of the members. This definition allows us
to use the group in order to read the society and to understand
the dynamics and the types of relations that characterize it.
According to Luhmann (Luhman, 1984-2003) the base for
the functioning of any social system is the communication be-
tween its fundamental elements. Society is the product of infi-
nite possibilities of correlation between system and its envi-
ronment; these correlations structure themselves from the shape
of their own interaction. The centrality of communication in the
construction of social systems is due to the enormous value that
recent-modern society assign to in technological communica-
tion, since it permits the transmission of information immedi-
ately erasing any space temporal limit. Giddens coined the term
“disembedding” to identify these conditions that take place in
context of distance and contemporary time, wanting to empha-
size “the creation of social relations in local interaction contacts
and their transformation through an undefined time-space per-
spective (Giddens, 1994). The uprooting of this process “cre-
ates a new kind of community with no relation to place or
physical presence between people: disembedding, that is a
phase in which social relations are brought out of local context
of interaction and restructured on indefinite time-space dimen-
sions”. “Thanks to the new interactive and multimedia plat-
forms of the computer network, the glocal dimension is that
realized in real time by individual users, freed from cultural and
historical group identity. The languages of the computer net-
work are working continually on connective strategies between
diverse, cultural, social, identifiable territories that first, at the
beginning of the industrial revolution, were geographically
defined within precise geopolitical confines (Abruzzese, 2003).
With the advent of communication technology, great changes
in society have occurred from a condition of solidity (charac-
terized by institutional stability in which space and territorial
distance play an important role in managing reality concepts) to
a liquid condition where changes are immediate and dictated by
the velocity in which the information is contained: in this con-
text, spatial barriers are eliminated and the possibilities of do-
minion are closely tied to the velocity of communication in
transmission of information (Baumann, 2002). The processes of
interaction in a micro-social context have a fundamental role in
structuring society and are the fundamental elements for the
definition of group: the study of group dynamics through com-
puter technology is absolutely essential for the comprehension
of the flexibility of structural mechanism typical of contempo-
rary reality (Federici, 2003). The ICT (Information and Com-
munication Technology) is technology applied to information
and communication and it is one of the inventions that in the
last decades has revolutionized not only the communicational
and informative processes but the educational ones as well.
Through the application of this technology to training it is pos-
sible to stimulate the cognitive elaboration (processes of acqui-
sition, processing and consolidation of knowledge), stimulate
meta-communicative skills and stimulate planning skills
through the mental anticipation of the events.
The structure of virtual groups is equivalent to that of face-
to-face groups: in both cases one can define norms, roles, status
processes of cohesion and feelings of group identity (Ruggieri,
Pace, 2009). What divides these two social realities regards the
environmental dimension in which they exist: if in the tradi-
tional group, most face-to-face interaction is realized through a
continuous exchange of information through a non verbal canal
of communication, in the virtual groups analogical communica-
tion is much less important because it is mediated through the
use of an avatar, images and emoticon. The absence of physi-
cality, therefore, influences the presentation of one’s personal
identity, which is manipulated creating images of itself that are
not necessarily corresponding to reality.
Even if virtual groups have the same components of
face-to-face groups, these elements work in different way. The
absence of a physical presence and anonymity are elements
capable of influencing the nature of the relations between
members of groups on line, depriving them of the possibility to
transmit information through the non verbal analogical dimen-
sion of human communication. Research has shown in fact that
the material aspects of the environment in which the face to
face group interacts, the interpersonal distance and the position
of the members all play a fundamental role in the structuring of
the dynamics that govern it (Shaw, 1976). The internal relations
in an on line group instead will be conditioned by specific ele-
ments of the virtual environment such as the conversational
style of the members or the resemblance of values and interests
expressed during the conversations.
Linked to the theme of anonymity is the management of per-
sonal identity on the Internet: in the news groups, in the chat
rooms and in the MUD (Multi User Dimension) individuals
build Virtual Identities or representations of oneself which do
not totally coincide with reality or which only give a small trace
of the real situation. So users relate to their interlocutors after
manipulating their physical moral and character image, often
following different codes of social conduct: “they present them-
selves as different people in a kind of consensual simulation;
they amuse themselves in challenging, manipulating and alter-
ing, disassembling and reassembling over and over the main
pieces of their daily dimension and the regulations and rules
that govern it so as to build a collective and imaginary dimen-
sion totally different from the real one” (Roversi, 2004).
The absence of a physical appearance and anonymity typical
of CMC are at the base of the phenomenon called deindividua-
tion, originally studied in relation to the function of large social
groups where the elevated number of people contributes to
reduce self awareness and to stimulate behavior non adherent to
social standards. Anonymity and the perception of solitude felt
by the web users during interaction through their computers
produce a psychological state which loosens social pressures. It
can bring, in extreme cases, towards behavior called flaming or
the manifestation of open hostility and aggressiveness towards
the individuals with whom they are interacting. This effect,
according to LEA and SPEARS (1992) gets stronger as the
sense of affiliation within the group gets weaker; in this case
the negative effects of deindividuation are determined by the
tendency of a user with a strong social identity to diminish the
importance attributed to the group and to affirm his own ego
through hostile behavior towards the other members. The re-
duction of social pressures does not always produce negative
effects: in many cases it may stimulate individuals to open up
towards others in a larger measure respect to when they com-
municate in a non anonymous condition.
Anonymity facilitates the participation and the interaction
within a group on the part of socially anxious individuals, too,
that in virtual group context are not subject to all those situa-
tions, which in real contexts cause social anxiety. Green and
Mckenna (2002) have shown how anxious subjects in a group
face-to-face condition show levels of social anxiety higher than
those experimented by anxious subjects within virtual groups.
These evidences contribute in explaining the phenomenon of
“status equalization effect” (Dubrowky et al, 1991) which con-
sists in the fairer participation on the part of all members of
virtual groups thanks to the reduction of status differences: in
face-to-face groups, in fact, the tendency on the part of low
social status subjects to participate to a smaller extent than high
status subjects, is remarkably reduced in respect to the virtual
Cohesion and status constitute a fundamental element in the
structural factors of a group: some research has observed that
“in less rich communication modes regarding the transferring of
information the cohesion links will develop more slowly and
with major difficulty than in the FTF contexts. Against this
research other studies show that the cohesion processes of the
group in virtual contexts are in reality simply slower to form”
(Boca, Pace, & Severino, 2009).
Anonymity and textual communication do not preclude the
creation of a sense of belonging among the members of an on
line group (Michinov, Michinov e Toczek, & Capelle, 2004),
and neither the development of group standards nor adhesion to
these standards by the participants are precluded (Bovas, Arrow,
1996; Finholt, & Sproull, 1990; Lea, Spears, & De Groot, 1998;
Postmates, Spears, & Lea, 1999). “The position assumed re-
spect to the group standards is closely related to the identity
reference of the individuals. The results available to date show
that if the participants are involved as members of a group the
on line behavior could result more rigidly accordant to group
standards than in non deindividuated situations” (Boca, Pace, &
Severino, 2009).
So identity has a social origin just as the intelligence of an
individual. The importance of the group on the cognitive level
is given by the possibility of identifying within the social,
categories in which we can place ourselves and manage social
relations. This way, social identity joins personal identity, which,
in a group situation, as Zimbardo sustains (Zimbardo et al., 1979) is
supported by a sort of anonymity given by the spread of the per-
sonal responsibilities of ones own actions.
Graphic composed by four areas, generated by the interaction
between private dimension (face to face) and collective dimen-
sion (social networking).
I don’t know other ways where intelligence or mind can
grow or be grown if not through the internal growth on the part
of the individual through experience and behaviour through so-
cial processes (Mead, 1967). Mead is convinced that the indi-
vidual behaves on the basis of the principle for which a stimu-
lus coming from the environment creates the right reaction: in
particular in the case of human being, between a stimulus and
its reaction is created a symbol, which is coordinated with one’s
personal orientation of behavior. The “self” and the “mind”, far
from being innate rather are developed in the effort to adapt
(themselves) to (their) environment.
The capacity to interpret gestures and behavior is the capac-
ity to take the role of the other. Without this capacity, it would
be impossible to co-operate with others that characterizes every
society. Besides this, this capacity implies that the individual
considers himself also from the point of view of the other: in
this way, you can better evaluate the consequences of one’s
behavior compared to another’s.
According to Mead, one of the peculiarities of human race is
that of making of one’s self an object of representation. The
different impressions that are formed from different situations
in which we interact with others and in different context (in-
cluding on-line) converge in a context which is more or less
coherent with our “self”. In this way, individuals acquire the
perspective of a community of attitudes, thanks to which they
cooperate with different people in different environments em-
pathize with them. Society is nothing but an organized interact-
tion among individuals: it is far from being a casual cones-
quence; it is rather coordinated and it needs the “mind” since
one could not coordinate one’s actions without assuming roles
and other possibilities of action. The subject is not only a sim-
ple consciousness blocking external influences: next to the
conscious state of “I” there is also “Me”, which means the con-
ception that others have of me, so it is the process of internali-
zation of what others expect of me. The idea of Mead is that we
are what others want us to be; facing other people, the subject
will develop an articulate vision of “Me” that is synthesized in
a coherent context. Only when such synthesis is successful can
the “self” be created, that is the personal identity as a structural
unit orientated towards cooperation. So understood, the “self” is
the synthesis in a fine balance of different “Me’s” (see Figure
Figure 2.
Severino’s flowchart.
As recent research shows, the material elements of group set-
tings (like the interpersonal distance in a group) play a very
important role in the construction of internal dynamics. In the
same way, internal relations in on-line groups are influenced by
specific factors from a virtual environment, as for example the
conversational style of group members and their similarities to
values and interests shown during conversation (Lipoma, &
Severino, 2008).
By the original Lewin’s formula
B=f E,P
the psycho-
logical field is a sum of interdependent psychological facts: the
first one is the subject’s space life (P), which is based on the
subject’s representation of the world; the second category of
facts (E) is social and/or environmental, including any physical
and social process that influences the internal subject’s world.
Furthermore Lewin theorizes a borderline, which represents the
boundary between the subjective representation of the world
and the real or substantial (physical and social) world. Accord-
ingly, the psychological field is the results of the interaction
between the subjective dimension and the external dimension.
In fact this interaction regulates individual behavior.
If Lewin formula is transposed to a virtual context, it can be
observed that a person’s behavior is the function of the interact-
tion between virtual environment and individual characteristics,
as indicated in the following formula:
iE ergoBEP
where B is the individual’s behavior in the virtual group, E is
the virtual environment and P is the individual.
The behavior of the individual in a virtual group (BV) is
regulated by the interaction of psychological facts (EV, P) de-
scribed by the original formula. Virtual identity, anonymity, as
well as the absence of the physical interaction and the absence
of a verbal communicational channel (replaced with avatar,
image and emoticon) are determining factors that characterize
interaction precesses within virtual groups against interaction
processes within face-to-face groups.
Another relevant effect of being anonymous and lacking
physical presence is the reduction of one’s understanding of
oneself that implicates a lessening of social pressures. Even if
this process in some cases leads to a flaming effect (that con-
sists of an aggressive mode of expression and hostility towards
other users in the virtual world) (Ruggieri, & Pace, 2009); in
other cases, it can facilitate social interactions above all in the
case of anxious individuals; Green and McKenna (2002) have
observed, in fact, that the socially anxious subjects show higher
level of anxiety in face-to-face group respects to what occurs in
virtual group settings.
This difference is defined as Status Equalization Effect
(Ruggieri, & Pace, 2009) that is the condition of reduced status
difference between virtual groups. In our research, the effect of
the process of reduction in the difference of status seems to be
at the origin of the activation of positive behavior dynamics
seen in greater measure in virtual groups rather that those that
are traditional.
The use of virtual groups in learning fields represents there-
fore a fine opportunity for development in the education and
formative paths in the world (Pignato, & Severino, 2009). In a
virtual group, the student is protagonist of his own learning
process during which he can communicate and interact with
teachers and other students without temporal limitation in a
hierarchical direction (teacher/student) and between equals.
This particular education mediated by the use of the actual
means of communication allows the student to immerse in the
contemporary society where he will learn to adjust with greater
ability and responsibility.
The following research analyses group dynamics that are in-
volved in two different social contexts: university environment
and virtual space are created through a virtual contact. The
creation of these groups IS part of a large evaluation context of
tutorial assistance that Kore University Enna has made avail-
able to its students.
Research took place in Enna (Sicily) a town of about 30 000
people which has a university with various faculties and degree
courses. The reference universe was composed by Psychology
students from which a sample of 320 students was extracted
(equal to 64% of the psychology student population) from di-
verse geographical origins, aged 19 to 30.
It was decided to control, within the sample extracted, the
variables of genre and age (between 19 and 30): the sample was
then again divided in two groups each containing 160 individuals
(paired by sex) who expanded their study methods for a whole
academic year (Table 2).
The first experimental group underwent virtual working con-
ditions, while the second control group underwent face to face
interaction work conditions.
The first macro-group, which is virtual, worked through a
virtual platform on Internet, as chat-rooms, forum and thematic
newsgroups. Even if e-mail is another communication instru-
ment which student have used, it was decided not to take into
consideration as a research towel, instead use it for dynamic
group analysis. On-line activities, as well as creating spaces for
socialization had also a function of support for tutorial. The
second macro-group, face-to-face, participated in tutorial ac-
tivities through seminars and in small groups working in labo-
ratories for technical-practical further study.
Object of the research was the mechanisms of socialization
and internal dynamics of both groups. Two questionnaires dif-
ferentiated on the basis of the chosen groups were utilized both
virtually and face-to-face. Both instruments were than further
subdivided in two parts.
The questionnaire relative to the face-to-face group (Table 3)
includes an introductory section dedicated to listing background
data, such as gender, age and sex; the second part, consists of
the Bales table (1950) - using in this case in a self-evaluation
form and based on a system of categorization which allows the
analytic and sequential listing of behavior registered in real
time by members of the group - and by a self report instrument
in which one is asked to express the degree of agreement or
disagreement (in a scale of 1 to 5: 1 completely disagree; 5
completely agree) aiming at declarations that describe the phe-
nomena in the group, dynamics objects of attention (defence
mechanism, episodes, phenomena).
The questionnaire relative to the on-line group includes be-
sides the section regarding computer use, frequency of connec-
tions to Internet and typologies of computer services use. The
second part, also in this case, illustrated by the Bales table
Table 2.
Sample’s structure.
Sample Experimental virtual group Face-to-face control group
160 160
E. G. Women E. G. Men C. G. Women C. G. Men
Students between the ages of 13 and 30
80 80 80 80
Table 3.
Bales’ Grid (Interaction Process Analysis – IPA -, 1950).
Analysis areas Observation categories Behavioural indications
Socio-cmotional Area: positive
1. Offers solidarity
2. Reduces tension
3. In agreement
1. Shows respect, gives help and support, gives praise
2. Jokes, laughs, is relaxed and content
3. Nods, approves, accepts, follows through
Area of examination: neutral
4. Gives suggestions
5. Expresses opinions
6. Gives information
7. Asks information
8. Asks opinion
9. Asks suggestions
4. Gives ideas, indicates solutions
5. Evaluates, judges, analyses, interprets, expresses desire and feelings
6. Informs oneself, repeats, confirms, clears up, shows
7. Asks for information, explanations, confirmations
8. Asks for evaluations and judgements, questions, feelings and states of
9. Asks for specific directions
Socio-emotive Area: negative
10. In disagreement
11. Shows tension
12. Becomes antagonist
10. Refuses help, non participation doubts, gives up, too formal
11. Asks for help, increasing tension, non participation
12. Debates, discouraged, depressed and humiliated
(1950) used in a self-correction form, has been adapted as
computer language for web users (Table 4); besides, self-report
section dealing with group phenomenology is present.
The SPSS Statistical Software Package for Social Sciences
has been used to make quantitative analysis of data, applying
analysis of the scores obtained from the questionnaires.
This one-way analysis has been applied to scores from the
Bales’ table while the two-way analysis has allowed us to show
the difference between dynamics revealed in the two groups
(experimental/on-line and check/face-to-face).
Findings and Results
A one-way analysis (Table 5) applied to the data has shown
the existence of significant statistical differences between the
on-line and face-to-face group dynamics. The items referring to
these three Bales IPA areas were grouped in different index; the
application of ANOVA in these new variables has produced
interesting results: behavior regarding the positive social emo-
tional area were indicated in a greater measure in virtual group
members; this result is a positive effect of the reduction of the
status of virtual group members who are involved in internal
behavioral dynamics. These results are coherent with the ten-
dency by face-to-face groups to show behavior included a
negative social-emotive context. The results of behavior in the
Task Area (Neutral) show that in two or three cases the com-
ponents of the virtual group are more involved than members of
the face-to-face group. This area includes functional behavior
aimed at the comprehension of the situation and resolution of
the problems.
The interviewed subjects showed the activation of defense
mechanisms, episodes and phenomena in both groups; the three
elements are indicators of development of group dynamics.
These results confirm early research conducted on newsgroups
(Ambrosini, Bernardi, & Bernini, 2000).
The differences regard mechanisms of defense from “cou-
pling up” (p < 0.01) “escape from love” (p < 0.001), episodes
of “condensation” (p < 0.001) and “permanent leadership” (p <
0.001) and two group phenomena of “language socialization”
(p < 0.05) and “tolerance of differences” (p < 0.001) (Table 5).
In particular, defense mechanism have been seen in both groups
(coupling in virtual groups avoiding love relationships in face-
to-face groups); the episodes (condensation and permanent
leadership) seem to regard above all groups in traditional inter-
action; the absence of language socialization regards the virtual
group, while it is significantly present tolerance for differences
(Figure 3 and Figure 4).
Conclusions and Recommendations
Today every aspect of human life is intrinsically linked to the
new possibilities which ICT offers. Communication which can
take place regardless of physical or temporal distances and the
building of a body of knowledge based on endless communica-
tion possibilities are just some of the fundamental aspects of the
continuous dynamics of change in society. Training and educa-
tional processes also change at great speed through the use of
new technology. McLuhan was the first, more than forty years
ago (indeed, drawing much from Vygotskij’s opinions) to un-
-derline the influence that the new technologies would have had
not only on the way of communicating but also on the devel-
opment of the human mind and on collective culture which is
the product of the new ways of interacting between individuals.
Virtual experience allow us to reach certain dimensions of
thought of training and of learning that were unthinkable just a
few decades ago; the diffusion of fast connections furthermore,
has determined the passage from the conception of the WEB as
a static container of information from which to draw towards a
reality in continuous transformation where knowledge adds to
knowledge and is transformed thanks to the flow of the context
in which this knowledge is produced. A person’s knowledge is
not only in his mind in a solo form, it is in the notes which he
takes and refers to, in the underlined books that he has in his
bookshelves, in the manuals he has learned to consult, in the
Table 4.
Bales’s grid (interaction process analysis – IPA -, 1950), adapted for web language users.
Analysis areas Observation categories Behavioural indications
Socio-motional Area:
1. Offers solidarity
2. Reduces tension
3. In agreement
1. Shows respect, gives help and support, praise through textual language, funny faces,
appropriate images
2. Jokes, uses funny faces and images that express a positive attitude (encouraging
3. Nods, approves, accepts through textual and funny face language
Area of examination: neu-
4. Gives suggestions
5. Expresses opinions
6. Gives information
7. Asks information
8. Asks opinions
9. Asks suggestions
4. Gives ideas, indicates solutions through textual “question language”
5. Evaluates, judges, analyses, interprets, expresses desires and feelings through tex-
tual, image, funny face and “question language”
6. Informs, repeats, confirms, clarifies, illustrates through post, new topic and a link
7. Asks for information, explanations, confirms through, post or new topic, openness
to new topics
8. Asks evaluations and judgements and questions, sentiments and states of the mind
through post or openness to new topics
9. Asks directions through post or new topics
Socio-emotive Area: nega-
10. In disagreement
11. Shows tension
12. Develops antagonism
10. Refuses help, is absent, doubts, gives up or reveals formalistic analysis through
language and use of emotion
11. Asks help, uses funny faces that express negative attitudes, is absent
12. Argues, is discouraged, is depressed and humiliated through textual language, the
use of emotion and images
Table 5.
Variability analysis.
Virtual Mean (SD1) Face-to-Face Mean (SD1)
F dir
Socio-emotive Area: positive
2. Reduces tension 3.93 (.87) 3.54 (1.02) 5.20* V > T
3. In agreement 3.93 (.87) 2.88 (1.17) 31.49*** V > T
1. Offers solidarity 3.60 (.88) 2.85 (.94) 20.76*** V > T
Area of examination
5. Expresses opinions 3.93 (.87) 3.59 (.91) 4.49* V > T
9. Asks suggestions 4.00 (.87) 4.40 (.58) 10.11*** T > V
6. Gives information 4.01 (.93) 3.03 (1.15) 26.64*** V > T
Socio-emotive Area: negative
11. Shows tension 2.32 (.97) 3.55 (1.02) 45.91*** T > V
12. develops antagonism 2.24 (1.09) 2.83 (1.18) 8.18** T > V
Group Phenomenology Self-report
Defence Menchanisms
13. State of being-couple 3.55 (.92) 3.03 (1.04) 8.60** V > T
14. Negate love emotions 2.83 (1.00) 3.62 (1.06) 17.61*** T > V
15. Condensation 2.95 (1.21) 4.11 (.89) 36.17*** T > V
16. Fixed Leadership 3.27 (1.00) 4.09 (.83) 28.18*** T > V
17. Language socialization 3.18 (1.19) 2.70 (1.25) 4.60* V > T
18. Tolerance of differences 2.98 (1.28) 2.04 (1.00) 19.99*** V > T
-Standard deviation; * p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, *** p < 0.0001; -F: test of relevance, grade of relevance in the difference between mean scores, data affability; -for the dy-
namics shown by asterisk has been utilized a operative definition that reveals the absence not presence of the bynamics.
Figure 3.
Histogram IPA bales.
information he has stored on his computer, knowledge is also a
part of his friends whom he may contact for reference and in-
formation and so on, the list is almost endless [...] If we over-
look the situational nature of knowledge and of understanding
then we have lost sight not only of the cultural nature of
knowledge but also of the cultural nature of the process of ac-
quisition of knowledge” (Bruner, 1992, pp. 104-105).
This study was undertaken with the intention to observe that,
despite all the computer is just a tool which helps us to write
and to keep our accounts in order but on another level the com-
puter allows us to navigate on virtual oceans giving us the pos-
sibility to discuss and exchange ideas and opinions with people
that we may never meet; living a sort of life on the screen
Figure 4.
Histogram group phenomenology-self report.
(Severino, & Lipoma, 2008, p. 144).
It appears that the importance of communicating and acting
between groups, even for brief periods of time, there are people
who do not have the opportunity, for various practical reasons,
to meet each other. The results show that participants in virtual
groups, such as their colleagues in the real world, feel part of a
social group.
In communication, these subjects can use more communica-
tion canals; they observe the non verbal reactions of other
group members and show the true feelings both positive and
Contrary to this, in what could be defined as antithesis, the
construction of a virtual relational space amplifies other social
dynamics in dimension that remain still “under ground” in
overt communication: with the new cognitive technologies we
are becoming aware of the opening of new spaces and mental
functions of the greater sensitivity to possessed cognitive func-
tions and the further growth in the area of consciousness.
Besides this, the result of a similar dynamic relation between
mind and media is a multiplication of synergy when it occurs in
cooperation and through the dialogue. This possibility consti-
tutes a point of fundamental departure for those people who
utilize or invent software instruments such as group ware for
reasons related to work (net-working, to career preparation,
courses of distance learning) or use of free time.
In fact, it is easy to understand the importance of micro-cul-
ture analysis which is at the basis of every virtual group so that
behavior can be interpreted by its own members finding new
and original ways to transfer the non verbal communication
components to a verbal reality.
The role of career preparation through the computer network
becomes even more relevant not only because it transmits
knowledge and diverse data which is coherent with a evolution
context but also because it can contradict the very existence of
a particular context making us reflect about the elements that
can enable us to communicate more easily.
Internet connects people in new spaces that can change our
thinking and our way of understanding human relationships,
creating a community (Turkle, 1995) and also our way of get-
ting information and acquiring learning: between real life and
cyberspace “the choice of the window to look through depends
on the objectives we wish to follow and who we want to be”.
This paper has presented a study that shows differences and
similarities between virtual and face-to-face group communica-
tion. Noteworthy relevance has the observation and the analysis
of relational and communicative dynamics within virtual and
face-to-face groups having aim of work of socialization.
Working organizations have been using groups in order to
increase production and services. Research about groups is still
prominent in psychosocial area, where can be distinguished
various groups, aiming at discussion, information, observation,
as well as research, and orientation. In clinical psychology area
we can still also find self-help and counseling groups, thera-
peutic and prevention groups, as well as wellness education
Enhancing the study of virtual groups within sociological
and psychosocial contests will give us the opportunity to dis-
cover the main differences between virtual groups and face-to-
face groups. Furthermore we can characterize virtual groups
formed by people that have acquired physically knowledge of
real life.
Through the study of virtual groups we can also deal with
epistemological issues concerning groups, which may imply a
rethinking of the definition itself of groups and communities.
Since the use of virtual communications channels plays an
important role in interactions and mutual knowledge of people,
the virtual group phenomenon gives us a novel view of human
groups and relationships.
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