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'Making Friends in Cyberspace' co-author wins award

Kory Floyd
September 29, 2011

There was a time in the not too distant past when making friends online was a novel concept.

Arizona State University professor Kory Floyd addressed this topic while working on his master’s degree and recently won the 2011 Charles H. Woolbert Research Award from the National Communication Association for the paper, “Making Friends in Cyberspace” (Journal of Communication 46, 1996) that he co-authored with Mac Parks of the University of Washington.

The award is given to scholars who have published a journal article or book chapter that has stood the test of time and become the stimulus for new conceptualizations of speech communication. Floyd will accept his award at the National Communications Association annual convention Nov. 19 in New Orleans.

“We wrote the article during a time in the mid ’90s when interacting in cyberspace was new. It was relatively novel to meet people and form relationships on the internet,” said Floyd, a professor in the Hugh Downs School of Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU. “We didn’t know anybody who had met their spouses online in the early ’90s.”

Meeting friends or establishing romances online was an emerging phenomenon that opened a new world of study for Floyd and Parks. Looking at online relationships gave rise to questions about how these worked, how they compared to relationships established through face-to-face interaction and how commonly people met online compared to real life.

“We really saw this as a new avenue for relationship development. It was still quite new,” Floyd said. “We discovered that people form relationships online that are qualitatively quite similar to ones formed in person.”

Their paper was among early works that sparked the interest of those in the communication discipline to ask questions and investigate this entirely new way to communicate.

“This paper has been very generative of new questions and new lines of research in the last 15 years since it has been published,” Floyd said.

During recent years as online communication has evolved, computer-mediated communication has become a sub-discipline within the area of communication with scholars studying recent trends such as cyberbullying and online deception.

“Cyberbullying is such a huge social and health problem for people who are the victims of that now. Even 5 years ago, that wasn’t even a term in our vocabulary,” Floyd said.

Overall, establishing and maintaining relationships through cyberspace has become so commonplace today that people don’t distinguish much between the friends that they have online and those who they interact with in person.

“For today’s students who have grown up online, that’s less and less a distinction,” Floyd said. “I would predict that that line is going to continue to blur.”

While Floyd began his academic career with a paper examining online relationships, during recent years he has focused on communication of affection and the effects it has on individuals. He has examined differing emotions that can be evoked from affection displays and how pleasurable interactions can reduce stress.

“Genuine affectionate behavior that is desired is really an efficient means of managing stress and returning to a state of calm and normalcy,” Floyd said. “Sometimes just getting a hug can change the entire course of the stress response. We’re also finding that affectionate behaviors can help the body and intervene with problems that are made worse by stress – hypertension, high cholesterol or high blood sugar.”

People can learn to manage stress in a more constructive way by engaging in affectionate behaviors when they are feeling pressured.

“Affection is not just something that helps us emotionally or psychologically. People actually have a multi-faceted physical benefit,” he said.

Floyd has written nine communication books. Among his most recent are: “Interpersonal communication: The whole story” (McGraw-Hill, 2008); “Biological dimensions of communication” (Hampton Press, 2009); and “Nonverbal communication” (Allyn & Bacon, 2010). Floyd is also the 2006 recipient of the Gerald R. Miller Award for Early Career Achievement from the International Association for Relationship Research.