Year of Publication

2020

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Agriculture, Food and Environment

Department/School/Program

Family Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Nathan D. Wood

Abstract

Many romantic couples integrate text and computer-mediated communication (CMC) into their relationship dynamics, both for general relationship maintenance and for complex dynamics such as problem solving and conflict. Romantic couple dynamics are interactional, dynamic, and sequenced in nature, and a common method for studying interactions of this nature is observational analyses. However, no behavioral or observational coding systems exist that are able to capture text-based transactional couple communication. The main purpose of this dissertation was to develop an observational coding system that can be used to assess sequenced computer- mediated, text-based communication that takes place between romantic partners. This process included assessing couples’ text communication to determine how verbal and non-verbal communication behaviors are enacted in CMC, modifying an observational coding system, and establishing reliability and validity of the revised coding system.

Secondary data was utilized, including 48 logs of romantic couples engaging in problem-solving discussions using online chatting for 15 minutes, where a log of the conversation was saved for future research purposes. For this dissertation, the researcher evaluated the dynamics in these logs to determine if behaviors and sequences were similar to basic romantic relationship dynamics that are present in face-to-face (FtF) couples’ dynamics. The researcher determined that the dynamics between CMC and FtF were similar, and that modifying a couple observational coding system would be appropriate.

The Interaction Dimensions Coding System was selected for use and modification for this study, and the training manual and codebook were updated to integrate CMC examples. Multiple avenues of assessing face validity were also pursued and feedback from the coding team and original authors of a couple coding system were integrated into the modified coding system. The modified coding system, IDCS-CMC, was used to code 43 text-based chat logs. A team of 4 coders was trained on the coding system, where they provided ratings from 1 to 9 on each partner for different dimensions of communication behaviors that were observed and they also rated each couple on 5 dyadic categories of relationship functioning. Interrater reliability was assessed throughout the training and independent coding process using the intraclass correlation coefficient. Results indicate that good or excellent interrater reliability was established for the individual dimensions of Positive Affect, Negative Affect, Problem Solving, Support/Validation, Denial, Conflict, and Communication Skills and for the dyadic codes of Positive Escalation, Negative Escalation, Commitment, Satisfaction, and Stability. There were only two dimensions that resulted in fair or poor interrater reliability, which were Dominance and Withdrawal, both of which warrant additional study in how these dynamics are enacted in and coded in CMC. Overall, the IDCS-CMC demonstrated good interrater reliability, and construct validity was established for the coding system in a variety of ways. Construct validity was established by assessing face, content, and convergent validity. Face validity was established by eliciting feedback on the IDCS-CMC from the coding team as well as one of the authors of the system used to inform the development of the IDCS-CMC. Content validity was established by assessing the degree to which the couples in the chat logs engaged in conversations of a similar nature in their real lives, and also by determining the degree to which the couple participants followed instructions to focus on a problem-solving topic during the chats. Convergent validity was assessed by comparing the IDCS-CMC dimensions and positive and negative communication composite scores to a measure of relationship satisfaction.

Overall, this dissertation details the process by which a couple observational coding system was developed and tested, and puts forth a methodological tool that can be used to better assess transactional use of CMC by romantic couples by researchers as well as practitioners and therapists.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2020.440

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