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Open Access


Research Article

Using interpersonal communication strategies to encourage science conversations on social media

Roles Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Project administration, Software, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft

* E-mail: [email protected]

Affiliation Ocean Frontier Institute, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

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Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Methodology, Project administration, Resources, Software, Supervision, Validation, Visualization, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation School of Information Management, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

  • Curtis Martin, 
  • Bertrum H. MacDonald


  • Published: November 10, 2020
  • https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0241972
  • Reader Comments

Fig 1

Today, many science communicators are using social media to share scientific information with citizens, but, as research has shown, fostering conversational exchanges remains a challenge. This largely qualitative study investigated the communication strategies applied by individual scientists and environmental non-governmental organizations on Twitter and Instagram to determine whether particular social media practices encourage two-way conversations between science communicators and citizens. Data from Twitter and Instagram posts, interviews with the communicators, and a survey of audience members were triangulated to identify emergent communication strategies and the resulting engagement; provide insight into why particular practices are employed by communicators; and explain why audiences choose to participate in social media conversations with communicators. The results demonstrate that the application of interpersonal communication strategies encourage conversational engagement, in terms of the number of comments and unique individuals involved in conversations. In particular, using selfies (images and videos), non-scientific content, first person pronoun-rich captions, and responding to comments result in the formation of communicator-audience relationships, encouraging two-way conversations on social media. Furthermore, the results indicate that Instagram more readily supports the implementation of interpersonal communication strategies than Twitter, making Instagram the preferred platform for promoting conversational exchanges. These findings can be applicable to diverse communicators, subjects, audiences, and environments (online and offline) in initiatives to promote awareness and understanding of science.

Citation: Martin C, MacDonald BH (2020) Using interpersonal communication strategies to encourage science conversations on social media. PLoS ONE 15(11): e0241972. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0241972

Editor: Rashid Mehmood, King Abdulaziz University, SAUDI ARABIA

Received: October 3, 2019; Accepted: October 24, 2020; Published: November 10, 2020

Copyright: © 2020 Martin, MacDonald. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability: “Ethical approval for this study was obtained at Dalhousie University, which operates within the terms of the Canadian Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans – TCPS 2 (2018). In compliance with this ethics approval, which assured anonymity and confidentiality to all participants, the original data cannot be made available. As the text of the Twitter and Instagram posts assembled could be searched online and the participants thereby disclosed, de-identifying the social media data is not possible. Similarly, the interview transcripts contain specific information related to the social media practices of each of the communicators, and could be used to identify the individual or organization participants. However, all anonymized aggregate data from the survey, as well as anonymized quotations from the interviews and survey, necessary to replicate the study’s results are within the manuscript and its Supporting Information files.”

Funding: BHM 435-2015-1705 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca/home-accueil-eng.aspx The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Human activities—both past and present—are having detrimental impacts on the earth’s environmental systems: fishing practices have forced fish stocks to critical condition [ 1 ], many of the planet’s species are being driven to extinction at an alarming rate [ 2 ], and continuous burning of fossil-fuels has created a global climate emergency [ 3 ]. If these harmful environmental practices are to be mitigated, they need to be managed through policy decisions at the science-policy interface where various actors, barriers, and enablers affect the flow of information from researchers to decision-makers [ 4 ]. Citizens are an important group that interacts with numerous stakeholders at this interface. If citizens are to be effective participants in decisions and solutions to address deteriorating environmental conditions, relevant research information must be communicated effectively to this diverse group. However, this communication is not a trivial activity, as cultivating environmental science literacy has proven to be a major challenge [ 5 – 8 ]. Climate change literacy is often cited to illustrate this challenge; misunderstanding is still widespread among citizens, due to a combination of denial, intentional obfuscation of facts, and personal values taking precedent over scientific information [ 5 , 6 , 9 , 10 ].

Although risks are associated with communicating science via social media (such as being subject to internet trolls and anti-science users [e.g., 11 , 12 ]), the internet and social media provide science communicators with significant opportunities to share policy-relevant information with citizens, as such tools are now the main information source for the public, including for scientific and policy information [ 13 , 14 ]. As of 2019 an estimated 4.4 billion people use the internet, with nearly 3.5 billion active on social media [ 15 ]. The latest statistics show that billions of social media posts are created daily on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media platforms, and the numbers are increasing [ 15 , 16 ]. Although important barriers to internet access still exist [e.g., 17 , 18 ], new media are generally user-friendly and widely available; simple and quick web searches can break down technical and financial barriers to information, and social media platforms are primarily inexpensive and accessible internationally [ 19 , 20 ]. Virtual communities can be formed online to facilitate public engagement with science, and citizens now have greater opportunity to participate in science communication, bypassing traditional information “gatekeepers” (e.g., scientific journals, popular media, government reports) to aid in information dissemination, and increase public awareness of important scientific issues [ 19 , 21 – 23 ].

Numerous researchers have explored whether relationships exist between social media posting behaviours of communicators and audience engagement [e.g., 24 – 30 ]. Research on this subject has been mainly exploratory to date, with studies covering a range of social media platforms and methods. At present, the results indicate that communication techniques can play an important role in generating audience engagement for both individual and organization communicators, but that science communicators have typically struggled to encourage conversations on social media, particularly with citizens exposed to such information for the first time [ 31 – 33 ]. Some studies have noted that science communicators have given lower priority to strategies that would promote engagement via online conversations [ 34 ]. Researchers have called for further exploration to understand better the challenges of facilitating science conversations on social media, to identify additional means of improving engagement, and to investigate whether communicator strategy and audience engagement patterns persist across communication topics [ 25 , 29 , 30 , 35 ]. In particular, they have called for small scale studies that offer detailed insights that big data approaches are less likely to provide [ 35 ].

This study applied a mixed methods approach to investigate communication strategies and two-way conversation activities of individual and non-governmental organization science communicators on two different social media platforms (Twitter and Instagram). The study triangulated data obtained through qualitative methods to: identify emergent communication strategies and resulting audience engagement; gain insight into why particular practices are employed by communicators; and determine why members of the audiences choose to participate in social media conversations with communicators.

Literature review

Science communication on social media.

The ability to communicate science to a wide variety of audiences is important. Scientific information is often needed for effective policy decisions, and strong science communication can promote the use of relevant information in environmental decisions [ 4 , 36 , 37 ]. Scientific information should be actively shared with citizens. Not only is the majority of scientific research publicly funded, citizens also need access to scientific information to make informed input to decisions on subjects relating to public policy, technological advancement, political preferences, and personal environmental practices, among others [ 26 , 38 – 42 ]. Communicating science to audiences beyond the academic community is increasingly seen as a responsibility of scientists, and is in some cases central to receiving research funding [ 40 , 43 – 45 ].

Scientists have been turning to social media to communicate the results of their research [ 46 , 47 ]. These media are significant because they grant communicators a platform for two-way exchanges with members of the public. Previously, the common and accepted communication model was based on resolving a perceived knowledge deficit to improve public understanding of science [ 48 – 50 ]. In this “first-order” way of thinking it was assumed that citizens lacked knowledge and acted as passive receivers of information. Thus, solely providing people with the necessary information was intended to lead to greater understanding and awareness of public issues [ 48 , 49 , 51 , 52 ]. “Second-order” communication that is reflexive, deliberative, and depends on dialogic, two-way information exchange is now thought to be a better model for sharing information with citizens [ 49 , 51 , 52 ]. This latter model promotes knowledge co-production between researchers and citizens by allowing people to bring their ideas and values to the conversation, and facilitates the formation of trust relationships between researchers and citizens [ 48 , 49 , 53 – 56 ]. A third participation model of science communication has also been proposed in the belief that all involved can contribute to decisions that affect them [ 57 , 58 ]. Social media—including blogs, microblogs, social networks, podcasts, and curatorial tools—offer the potential to facilitate deliberative communications, allowing citizens to participate in research discussions online by responding to information, sharing it with others, and/or creating new science communication resources [ 46 , 59 , 60 ].

Non-governmental organizations and individual scientists as communicators on social media

Social media have become significant to organizational practice [ 61 – 63 ]. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in particular have been credited with pioneering the use of social networking tools, prior to their use by government agencies and private companies [ 64 ]. As a result, social media—including Twitter and Instagram—are used by many NGOs around the world. According to a recent report, 77% of NGOs use Twitter, and 50% use Instagram, with the majority posting on both Twitter and Instagram at least once per week [ 64 ]. NGOs of all sizes are reaching large numbers on both platforms with some building massive audiences. For example, Amnesty International has over 1 million Twitter followers ( www.twitter.com/amnesty ), and over 500,000 Instagram followers ( www.instagram.com/amnesty ).

NGOs cite numerous benefits associated with social media use, including fundraising, increased brand awareness, volunteer recruitment, improved event organization, and more effective communications [ 64 – 66 ]. Through social media, organizations can share information, participate in conversations, and build relationships with their audiences [ 65 – 68 ]. Nonetheless, various studies show that NGOs have not fully capitalized on the affordances granted by social media: organizations have typically been found to focus on one-way communication models characteristic of a knowledge-deficit, using social media primarily as a broadcast tool, similar to the practices observed for some government agencies [ 25 , 29 , 68 – 72 ].

Individual scientists have been relatively slow in adopting social media [ 73 – 77 ]. According to a survey by Nature, an estimated 13% of scientists use Twitter regularly, with 50% of those engaging in scientific discussions on the platform [ 78 ]. According to another study, it is estimated that a smaller portion of scientists active on Twitter also use Instagram [ 79 ]. One reason for slow acceptance is that science outreach is often not incentivized for researchers; researchers interested in communication activities are therefore often required to pursue them on a volunteer basis in addition to their professional duties, creating a time barrier [ 79 , 80 ]. Furthermore, scientists—especially those working in government and industry—are sometimes discouraged from open communications [e.g., 81 – 83 ]. In other words, broad and public communication is typically not regarded as a valuable activity for researchers [ 79 ]. There is also evidence that individual scientists avoid communicating via the tools due to a general lack of knowledge on how the tools function, questions surrounding the rigor of scientific discussions on social media, and incorrect perceptions that the tools are ineffective as a means of scientific communication [ 75 – 77 , 79 ].

Numerous studies have demonstrated the strong communication potential that social media provide to scientists [e.g., 84 – 86 ]. Social media afford scientists the ability to build their “personal brand” by communicating their research and other related subjects [ 86 ]. Additionally, social media provide an avenue through which scientists can communicate to the public, which, although not new, is a more common and more requested pursuit for researchers today [ 87 – 90 ]. However, research shows that scientists utilizing social media are mainly sharing research within their own fields, with outreach to the wider public remaining a lower priority [ 75 – 77 , 79 ]. Some scientists also over-emphasize the importance of blogs as a tool for communicating with public audiences; blogs were previously thought to be useful for encouraging dialogues with citizens, but in practice have not been widely successful in reaching non-scientific audiences [ 79 , 91 ].

As illustrated above, science communicators have had difficulty in engaging citizens in two-way conversations on social media, which has led to calls for more innovative/inventive strategies to engage citizens with research, predominantly on subjects linked to important public policy issues [e.g., 92 ]. Furthermore, social media communication strategies often vary among communicators, including individuals and organizations, which affect whether communication is effective [e.g., 69 , 93 ].

This study investigated strategies to engage people with scientific and policy information on social media. Research indicates that social media practices can affect how audience members engage with posts shared by individual and organization communicators [ 31 ]. Therefore, the first research question addressed by this study is:

RQ1: How do individual and NGO communicators approach sharing scientific and policy information on social media, and what particular strategies do they apply in their activity to engage with their audiences?

Furthermore, science communicators have typically struggled to encourage conversations on social media, despite evidence of two-way conversations being more effective for information sharing than one-way transmission [ 32 , 33 , 49 , 51 , 52 ]. Therefore, the second research question addressed by this study is:

RQ2: Do particular social media strategies encourage two-way conversations between science communicators and online audiences, and what characteristics of the strategies encourage communicators and audiences to participate in two-way conversations?

The goal of this research was to identify communication practices that encourage two-way conversations between communicators and citizens on social media. If particular techniques are more engaging, they could be adopted or prioritized by communicators to improve how scientific and policy information is shared on social media, and ultimately enable citizens to participate in decision-making processes.

To address the research questions, the activity of four scientists acting as recognized science communicators using individual Twitter and Instagram accounts and the activity of three environmental non-governmental organizations (eNGOs) using organization Twitter and Instagram accounts to share scientific and policy information were studied. This number of communicators was selected to consider the research questions in a detailed, qualitatively data-rich manner (consistent with calls for such studies; [e.g., 24 ]) rather than be representative of all scientists and eNGOs communicating on social media. This study was conducted with established qualitative research methods appropriate for the sample size of communicators and volume and types of data collected [e.g., 94 ]. This research included: 1) an analysis of public Twitter and Instagram data of each of the seven account holders to identify practices implemented by communicators and resulting follower engagement in two-way conversations; 2) interviews with the individual and eNGO communicators to determine their social media strategies; 3) a survey of audience members involved in two-way conversations to determine why they participate in conversations on social media; and 4) an audience “biography” analysis to determine whether the communicators are engaging a scientific, non-scientific, or mixed audience on social media ( Fig 1 ). Following collection, the aggregated social media data were triangulated to develop thorough understanding of social media strategies used by the communicators.


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Ethics approval for this study was obtained in the ethics review process established by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Ethics Board at Dalhousie University. As required by the ethics approval, informed consent was obtained from the participants prior to the interviews and the survey. The social media data collection complied with the Terms of Service for both Twitter and Instagram. Twitter was selected for this study because it is actively used for science communication and has been studied to a greater extent than other platforms [ 35 , 75 – 78 ]. Instagram was selected because it is a newer platform, and fewer studies on the potential of Instagram as a science communication tool have been completed to date [ 35 , 78 ]. Studying usage of the two platforms, which offer different features, allowed determining whether the communicators were consistent in their application of social media strategies.

Account identification

Following the requirements of ethics approval, all of the participants were treated anonymously. The four individual scientists are located in four countries in North America and Europe. These scientists were chosen from The SciCommunity, an Instagram community that uses social media to make science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics more accessible ( instagram.com/thescicommunity ). The individual communicators were selected based on the order in which they joined the community. Beginning with the earliest community members (i.e., most established communicators), scientists who use personal Twitter and Instagram accounts to communicate primarily in English frequently each week, with accumulated 10,000 followers or more (Twitter and Instagram combined), were invited to participate in the study. Invitations were extended until four communicators agreed to participate in the study. The three eNGOs, also with many thousands of followers, were selected for their focus on sharing environmental information on Twitter and Instagram regularly each week, and for the scale of the organization (one local, one national, and one international). Invitations were extended to eNGOs that met the criteria until three agreed to participate in the study, Environmental NGOs were studied due to their growing role as science communicators to diverse audiences [ 63 , 95 ].

Social media data collection and coding

Publicly available Twitter and Instagram data posted by the seven communicators were collected for four weeks from July 30 to August 26, 2018, including all Twitter posts (TRPs), Instagram posts (IGPs), Instagram stories (IGSs), and all associated TRP and IGP comments. As this study followed a largely qualitative approach to investigate the social media practices of the communicators, one month was judged to be sufficient for analysis and triangulation with the interviews. During the interviews (see below), communicators were asked to focus their responses on their most recent social media activity. Twitter posts were collected once per day using the desktop version ( twitter.com ) one week after they were posted to allow time for audience engagement (from August 6 to September 2, 2018). A screenshot of the TRPs recorded the date/time of posting, captured images, and preserved a “snapshot” of the content and engagement. In the case of multiple Twitter posts together (i.e., a thread), the posts within a thread were captured and treated as a single post, unless posts occurred over multiple days.

Instagram posts were collected from the desktop version ( instagram.com ) in the same manner as TRPs. Instagram stories were collected twice daily to ensure none were missed (as stories expire after 24 hours). Screen capture software was used to record the video and audio associated with each IGS post. Each set of stories was saved as a video file and the stories were separated into threads based on the time between posting and topic continuity. Engagement data from IGSs are not public and were not captured.

The Twitter and Instagram data were organized in spreadsheets for statistical analysis in Rstudio version 1.1.456. For the TRPs, five spreadsheet files were created: original content, comments, handles, names, and reply type (response from the original communicator vs. a secondary social media user). The content files contained two columns—post caption data, and hashtag data—with each row representing a unique post. The other files were organized similarly, with each row containing data on either comments, handles, names, or reply types associated with a unique post. This process was used for IGPs, but only for original content, comments, and handles were created, as data for names and reply type are not recorded within Instagram posts. Each TRP, IGP, and IGS was categorized for the content characteristics [ S1 Table ] using codes based on topics listed as central to the goals of organizations, and the Instagram description for The SciCommunity. Because the Instagram story data were recorded in audio/visual formats, rather than text, the IGSs were only subjected to content coding. In total, 840 social media posts and 1399 comments were collected and analyzed.

Text analysis

The Twitter and Instagram post captions were subjected to text analysis using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count 2015 (LIWC2015) software, which was used to identify the percentage of personal pronouns used in social media posts by the communicators, as such pronouns can affect how interactions between communicators and their audiences are perceived [ 96 ]. LIWC has been validated and used in numerous published research studies [ 75 , 97 ]. English and non-special character data in the text captions posted by each communicator were analyzed as a single dataset, aided by Excel. The analysis was conducted separately for the Twitter and Instagram data for each communicator. Individual and eNGO scores were aggregated, as both communicator groups were analyzed under the same conditions.

Interview data collection and analysis

The owners or representatives of the seven accounts were invited via email to participate in semi-structured interviews and to maintain anonymity were randomly assigned a code (e.g., IND1 for an individual scientist or ORG1 for an eNGO). The interview questions were designed to investigate how the communicators viewed their use of social media generally, along with their goals/objectives, their posting strategies, and their participation in social media conversations. The interviews, conducted by phone or Skype, were audio recorded. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and subjected to three rounds of coding, following established analysis processes [ 98 – 100 ], to draw out the themes from the textual data: an initial round to determine specific codes for each relevant interview response, a second round to create broader grouping of associated codes into categories, and a final round to restructure categories into overarching themes of all interviews. In the initial round, coding was conducted by one researcher, followed by a second researcher. The coding was compared and where discrepancies occurred, the researchers discussed the variations and resolved the differences. In subsequent rounds as the themes were drawn from the underlying coding, the second researcher reviewed the theme extraction to ensure consistency of application.

Survey data collection and analysis

An online survey, open from September 10 to October 31, 2018, was administered using Opinio software to query engaged users about their participation in two-way social media conversations. Individuals who posted English comments in two-way conversations on Twitter or Instagram posts of each of the accounts were invited to complete the survey. The participants were invited if they were involved in a conversation with a) one of the communicators in the study, or b) another user who commented on a communicator post. A two-way conversation was defined as a comment that received at least one response, with both the commenter and respondent invited to complete the survey. Accounts that were deleted or changed to a different “handle” by users before invitations were sent out, accounts that did not belong to individuals, accounts that were obvious trolls/bots (based on their social media profile and/or comments), and the seven accounts of the individual scientists and eNGOs in the study were excluded. A total of 425 conversationalists were invited to participate in the survey via either Twitter or Instagram (i.e., the platform in which a conversation occurred) using a unique comment that tagged the individual in a Twitter or Instagram post and asked to follow a link that directed them to a webpage containing the survey link. When users conducted conversations on posts of more than one of the accounts in the study, random selection was used to decide which account the user was contacted about. The participants were treated anonymously and limited to completing the survey once. The quantitative data were subjected to descriptive statistical analysis, and the free text responses were coded for content themes.

Audience analysis

The Twitter and Instagram biographies of the individuals invited to complete the survey were analyzed statistically with the aid of Rstudio version 1.1.456 to determine if they self-identified as scientists on social media. The individuals were classified as scientists if their biography mentioned science or science disciplines (e.g., neuroscientist, biochemistry), or if their social media profile pictures clearly depicted them as scientists.

Because the aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between communication techniques and audience engagement, particularly two-way conversations across Twitter and Instagram, analysis of the activity data from the two social media platforms, the interviews, and the survey text responses and demographic information were integrated for each communicator in the presentation of the results. This approach triangulates each communicator’s social media practices (both their views about their strategies and actual practices) with audience engagement, while highlighting similarities and differences in the strategies and engagement between each communicator and as either an individual communicator or eNGO. Because this study connects the application of strategies and resulting engagement throughout the social media activity of the communicators, social media data were analyzed in aggregate (i.e., strategies and engagement across all posts), rather than on a post-by-post basis.

Three strategy filters

The interviews and the Twitter and Instagram data show that the two communicator groups utilize three types of “filters” to guide their posting activity. First, the seven communicators operate within implicitly accepted social practices on each platform (i.e., platform conventions). Second, the two communicator groups apply specific activity strategies related to posting frequency and type of media used in posts. Third, the seven communicators implement interpersonal communication strategies in their posts. These three filters are implemented in a hierarchical manner, that is, the activity strategies are applied according to platform conventions, and the interpersonal strategies are applied in accordance with both the activity strategies and platform conventions. Interpersonal communication and strategies emerged as important characteristics of the communicators’ social media activity. Interpersonal communication has been the focus of extensive research [ 101 – 104 ]. The succinct definition by Braithwaite, Schrodt, & Carr [ 105 ], “interpersonal communication is the production and processing of verbal and nonverbal messages between two or a few persons,” is pertinent in this study as this definition accounts for communication centred on individuals, focused on interactions involving exchange of messages, and on development of relationships between the participants. As is shown below, the strategies that communicators implemented to promote interpersonal communication gave attention to one or more of these aspects.

Platform conventions

The interviews with the seven communicators show that accepted social media conventions play an important role in dictating the techniques applied by them, as they recognize that adherence to the common platform practices that have emerged over time will ensure their posts remain consistent with the expectations of social media users. The communicators expressed similar views of how they plan and implement strategies based on the platform conventions. For example, all of the communicators noted that Twitter tends to attract a more educated and/or issue-cognizant audience seeking news-centric information, and that Instagram draws a larger general/non-scientific audience interested in more personal multimedia posts, and therefore the seven communicators post accordingly to meet audience expectations (e.g., “You can share photos on Twitter, but it’s more visible and accessible on Instagram” (IND 4 interview)). Additional strategies applied by the communicators (discussed below), are implemented in compliance with implicit platform conventions.

Activity strategies

The individual and eNGO communicators implement particular strategies related to post frequency, platform priority, and media type used in posts—hereafter referred to as activity strategies—although with some variability. The eNGOs strive to post at regularly scheduled intervals, while maintaining flexibility to react when necessary. For example, one eNGO representative stated: “[we’re] doing as much planning as possible, but trying to leave in the flexibility to react when there is a more timely or necessary content need” (ORG2 interview). This approach allows the eNGOs to present well-researched information that is backed by evidence, while still giving the organizations an opportunity to share topical content and participate in social media “conversations” regarding breaking news or unexpected events related to their work (e.g., an interesting animal encounter during field work). In practice, ORG1 and ORG3 post on social media about 20 times/week ( Fig 2 ). ORG2, however, posts on Twitter and Instagram much more frequently, at a rate of >120 times/week ( Fig 2 ), because it “seems to be the most effective” for encouraging engagement (ORG2 interview). The individual scientists post in a less scheduled manner than the eNGOs, mainly when they feel inspired to do so. IND3 and IND4 post at similar rates to ORG1 and ORG3 (about 20–25 times/week), but IND1 and IND2 less than 10 times/week ( Fig 2 ). The individual scientists indicated that frequency is not as important as quality. They typically share based on more mentally “dynamic” factors (e.g., creativity, curiosity, inspiration, interest), and consequently do not feel motivated to post at high frequencies, which the individuals find to be overexerting or time consuming. As one communicator said, “I’ve kind of come to the point where it’s best for me just to post when I like, when [it] suits me best” (IND4 interview). Although the individual scientists did not discuss whether posting at high frequencies is an effective engagement strategy (other than ensuring the time between posts is not excessive, e.g., weeks), they did mention that they believed that the excitement/passion they are able to convey based on inspiration can be quite engaging for their audience.


Colours indicate the platform distribution of Twitter posts (TRPs), Instagram stories (IGSs), and Instagram posts (IGPs).


The communicators decide which platform they use based on a mix of platform affordances and level of engagement received. However, the eNGOs and individual scientists do not prioritize the same platforms, in regard to intended strategies, or how they are translated into practice. ORG2 prefers Instagram over Twitter, as Instagram is seen as more aligned with the organization’s overall goals: “our preference, or our top performing platform I should say, has been Instagram … it’s still at a point of very rapid growth and evolution in terms of the functions or things you can and can’t do on the particular platform. So that’s lent itself to being a top performer” (ORG2 interview). ORG1 and ORG3 do not have expressed platform preferences. Nevertheless, based on actual post frequency, all three of the eNGOs prioritize Twitter over Instagram, sharing most of their posts (67–76%) on Twitter ( Fig 2 ). For ORG2, this practice is not consistent with the stated platform preference noted during the interview. All three of the individual scientists said they prefer Instagram—especially IGSs. For example, IND3 emphasizes posting on Instagram because that is “where [my] biggest audience is,” while also noting the importance of functionality: “I love how many dimensions there are to using Instagram. You can do pictures, you can do posts, you can do videos and stories, you can live stream. It’s so … versatile in how you can use it that it’s been incredible as a creator” (IND3 interview). The actual post frequency corroborates the interview responses of the individual scientists, as 69–85% of all their social media posts were shared on Instagram, particularly IGSs, with 50–77% of all posts shared via IGSs ( Fig 2 ).

All of the communicators post text, images, and videos in accordance with platform conventions. The two groups of communicators use media types (text, images, and video) in a similar proportion of posts, but the individuals use text differently. Both the individuals and the eNGOs include text in all posts, images in the majority of posts (56–98%), and videos in a smaller fraction of posts (2–36%) ( Fig 3 ). However, on Instagram, where the character limit is 2200 for each post, the individuals post an average of 244 words/caption, whereas the eNGOs use fewer words (an average of 102 words/caption) ( Table 1 ). On Twitter, where the post length is more limited (280 characters), all communicators post a similar average of words/caption (28 for eNGOs and 30 for individuals) ( Table 1 ). In addition, none of the individual scientists use Twitter to share videos, whereas two of the three eNGOs do ( Fig 3 ).


Proportion of social media posts by individuals and eNGOs containing A) images, and B) videos/GIFs, July 30-August 26, 2018. Colours indicate the relative proportion of posts with images or videos/GIFs in the TRPs, IGSs, and IGPs.




Interpersonal strategies

The seven communicators all noted in their interview responses that they aim to integrate interpersonal strategies into their social media activities. Some of these strategies are non-conversational, resulting in no direct interactions between the communicators and audience members. Six of the communicators stated that humanizing social media content is important for establishing personal connections with audiences. To humanize their organizations the representatives of ORG1 and ORG3 stated they display images of scientists or other staff members in posts. As one eNGO representative said, “It’s good for people to get to know who… the researchers or advocates are behind each of the stories and who’s working on them and why. I think [that’s] useful for people… that human aspect is important, and… giving people a chance to get to know who’s behind the controls is a good thing” (ORG1 Interview). However, the ORG1 and ORG3 representatives also stated that posting selfies and humanizing their organizations is one of their biggest social media challenges, particularly as the organization staff are often not willing to be seen in social media photos/videos, and because the organizations employ multiple staff members to create content for social media (ORG1 and ORG3 Interviews). In practice, ORG1 and ORG3 include selfies in a small fraction of their posts (14% and 15% of posts respectively), whereas ORG2 does not post any selfies on social media ( Fig 4 ).


Colours indicate relative proportion of posts with selfies in the TRPs, IGSs, and IGPs.


Selfies are a key means of humanizing the individual scientists since displaying their faces allows people to become comfortable with them. The individual scientists stated they use selfies to convey authenticity and to encourage/invite their audience to engage with them. As IND3 said, “I do try to be the most honest version of myself that I can display,” which “is important because it helps people to understand and also care about what you’re communicating” (IND3 interview). Similarly, IND2 noted: “that’s why I like to film in a selfie mode, because also it… puts a face on a scientist. People like to connect with other people” (IND2 interview). IND1 also expressed a similar view: “that’s one hundred percent to be human… even if you post a photo with your science, or with your code, or whatever… I think even in my facial expressions I try to make it about inviting people in” (IND1 interview). Selfie strategies are evident in the actual posting activity of the individual scientists, who collectively utilize selfies far more frequently than the eNGOs, incorporating selfies into more than 30% of posts ( Fig 4 ). Additionally, selfie-style videos are important for the individuals, who noted they speak directly to their camera to convey a sense of talking directly to their audiences. The individuals believe these videos are especially effective for communicating on a personal level and establishing communicator-audience relationships. For example, IND3 explained how selfie-style videos feel very authentic and conversational:

I think video content, especially… a selfie-style video… feels pretty intimate actually. It feels like you’re having a one-on-one conversation, and it really helps… to build relationships with the audience. Because it feels very personal to have someone speaking right to you via the phone in your hand. (IND3 interview)

Selfie-style videos are commonly implemented as a strategy by the individual scientists, as a substantial proportion of their video posts (38–67%) include selfie-style audio ( Fig 5 ). In contrast, the eNGO communicators rarely use selfie-style audio in their video posts (5–7%), generally opting for no audio at all, or music-based audio ( Fig 5 ).


*Two or no videos posted (IND2 and ORG1).


In addition to practices to humanize their social media activity, the communicators used non-conversational interpersonal communication strategies linked to the social media topics of their posts. Educating audiences through social media is an important goal of the eNGOs, and they give particular attention to the manner in which education is conducted. They emphasize a two-way model, rather than a top-down approach where information only flows from communicator to audience. For example, ORG1 pointed out: “I don’t know if it’s ‘teaching’… We don't want to be talk ‘down-y’” (ORG1 interview). The eNGOs also try to balance “heavier” educational/scientific content with “lighter” topics—such as posts focused on funny/interesting animals—and they use metaphors to make science content more accessible for their audiences. Similarly, the eNGOs stated they aim to make the content fun and interactive by presenting compelling information and mixing in humour. In addition, the eNGOs aim to build trust with their audiences by ensuring all of their posts are backed by scientific evidence. Overall, the social media activity shows that the eNGO communicators post consistently on topic (only an average of 9% of eNGO posts were off-topic, i.e., not clearly linked to the organization’s goals or mission, Fig 6 ), deciding to include entertainment and humour in posts topically linked to the organization’s goals/mission.


Colours indicate the relative proportion of off-topic posts in the TRPs, IGSs, and IGPs.


Similar to the eNGOs, the individual scientists exercise two-way communication practices to avoid talking down to their audiences and to balance the educational component of their social media activity with lighter content such as humour and entertainment. One individual emphasized this sentiment, describing the educational component as “teaching, but with an engagement model… helping people to engage with educational content” (IND3 interview). However, in contrast to the eNGOs, the individual scientists mainly balance the content by including personal social media topics—such as daily activities that might be unrelated to science—and expressed a clear intention to post personal content using IGSs. For example, IND1 discussed how posting personal content on IGSs helps to portray scientists as people, i.e., regular individuals who have interests outside of science:

I think that Instagram stories humanize [science] more than anything else. Just because they’re quick, they don’t have to be high quality… Sometimes [content is] not exciting enough to warrant a whole post on Instagram, but you know, people like seeing it on the stories. Because it’s a way for them to check in with me, and like, what I am doing between posts. (IND1 interview)

The individuals also focus on expressing emotions in their post topics, and try to authentically display themselves, and scientists more generally, as warm, kind people as opposed to strictly knowledge experts absent of approachable qualities. In addition to ensuring their posts are all evidence-based (a strategy emphasized by the eNGOs as well), the individual scientists work to establish personal connections with their audiences in order to build trust. In highlighting use of selfie-style videos, IND3 said, “Recording an off the cuff video just kind of… confers some level of honesty. Because it’s you just free stream talking as if in conversation. And so, I try not to overly produce anything. Because I want people to see… we’re just talking, this is not so serious. We’re just having conversations, let’s delve in” (IND3 interview). The social media data demonstrate that the individual scientists share a larger proportion of off-topic posts than eNGOs (an average of 32% of posts were off-topic), many of which are about everyday activities ( Fig 6 ). The text analysis of social media posts via LIWC shows that individual scientists also use more first person personal pronouns in their posts than the eNGO communicators; 3.4% and 5.1% of words in captions posted by the individuals on Twitter and Instagram respectively were first person pronouns ( Table 1 ). In comparison, the eNGOs used such pronouns less frequently (2.1% of words on Twitter, 1.5% of words on Instagram).

The seven communicators also implement interpersonal communication strategies via two-way conversations with their audiences. The eNGO communicators stated that they prioritize responding to audience comments on their posts, especially when people ask questions. The eNGOs also put calls to action (such as requests for audience members to sign petitions or join meetings) and/or questions in their posts, and endeavour to make their posts captivating, all designed to encourage audience members to participate in social media conversations. In addition, the eNGO communicators view two-way conversations as an opportunity to establish personal connections with their audiences and form communicator-audience relationships. For example, ORG2 said that “it’s difficult to build that relationship without having a conversation. So… enabling the opportunity to interact one-on-one with the individual… [is an occasion] to be able … to take that next step in that relationship” (ORG2 interview). Nonetheless, the eNGO communicators did not particularly feel they have been successful in forming communicator-audience relationships, as noted by ORG1: “I don’t feel like I have much of a personal relationship with the followers, no” (ORG1 interview). While the eNGO representatives stated that engaging with audience members was important, in practice, ORG1 and ORG2 respond to few, if any comments (responding to less than 1% of comments per post) ( Fig 7 ). Although ORG3 responds to about 8% of comments per post, it still does so much less frequently than all individuals (who responded to an average of 15–34% of comments per post).


Colours indicate the relative proportion of comments responded to on TRPs and IGPs. Numbers on top of bars indicate the total number of comments responded to during the study period.


In the interviews, the four individual scientists also discussed interpersonal communication strategies via two-way conversations with their audiences. They prioritize responding to audience comments (particularly questions), put calls to action and/or questions in their social media posts to encourage a conversations, and strive to establish personal connections with their audiences and form communicator-audience relationships via two-way conversations. This view was obvious in a statement by IND3: “A lot of the time we’re just building relationships, we’re laughing. I’ll post something funny, and someone will reply… Further, it’s important for me to let people know that scientists do care about them… We care about individuals more than people realize… So it’s important for me to address people’s concerns, and talk with them, and share with them information that they’re curious about” (IND3 interview). In practice, the individual scientists respond to a substantially larger proportion of audience comments than the eNGOs (15–34% of comments per post ( Fig 7 )). The individual scientists also highlighted that they have been able to form communicator-audience relationships through their social media activity, as evidenced by a comment by IND4: “Yeah, [meeting up with an audience member in person for the first time] was great. It was weird in the fact that it wasn’t a complete stranger. So although it was the first time that you met them, you were talking to them like you had known them for ages” (IND4 interview). One individual scientist noted that although typical conversations on posts might be short, the conversations can extend beyond single posts once communicator-audience relationships are formed:

Oh my gosh, they’re ongoing. They’re very ongoing. There are many examples of people messaging me to ask for advice … and [they] almost always follow up. So I had one woman applying to a … program, and we actually even met in person because she happened to be visiting, and we exchanged some advice and conversation. And a year later she followed up and let me know she got into the program … and we had been chatting in the interim, but not so much. But many times people will follow up and let me know how it went, and say thank you, and say, “Oh I also learned this, you can tell people that next time” … So now we’ve turned a one-time interaction into a long-term resource, which I think is cool. (IND3 interview)

In contrast, the eNGO communicators noted during interviews their intention to build relationships with audience members through social media, but did not indicate that they had been successful in doing so.

Audience engagement on communicator posts

Triangulation of the social media and survey data was carried out to understand why audience members decided to engage with social media posts shared by the communicators. The individual scientists receive more conversational engagement than the eNGOs, that is, the individuals receive more and longer comments, and generate a larger number of direct interactions with unique conversationalists ( Table 2 ). The individuals receive 20–42 comments/post/10,000 followers on Instagram, and 0.8–60 comments/post/10,000 followers on Twitter whereas the organizations receive 1–4 comments/post/10,000 followers and almost no (0.05–0.4) comments/post/10,000 followers on Instagram and Twitter, respectively ( Table 2 ).



Comments on the individual scientists’ posts ranged from 11–26 words in length on Instagram and 9–26 words on Twitter ( Table 2 ). In contrast, comments on the eNGO communicators’ posts ranged from 5–7 words on Instagram and 2–15 words on Twitter ( Table 2 ). Although the total number of unique conversationalists varied across the two groups and platforms ( Table 2 ), an average of 74% and 85% of unique users interacted directly with the individual communicators on their Twitter and Instagram posts, respectively (although IND1 on Twitter was far lower than the other individuals). An average of 30% of unique conversationalists interacted directly with the eNGO communicators on their Twitter posts, and an average of 23% did so on Instagram posts ( Table 2 ).

Although direct message data were not collected (this information is not public in either Twitter or Instagram), all of the communicators indicated during the interviews that direct message engagement does not occur more frequently than comment engagement. Furthermore, although the eNGO communicators engage a majority non-scientific audience (0–22% of conversationalists across Instagram and Twitter were identified as scientific users), the individual scientists reach a mixed audience consisting of both scientific and non-scientific users–particularly on Instagram–with 42–67% of conversationalists identified as scientific users on Instagram, and 44–100% identified as scientific users on Twitter ( Table 2 ). While mixed, scientists constitute a large proportion of the audience of the individual communicators.

The survey of conversationalists yielded a response rate of 10% (45 out of 425 invited to complete the survey). Most of the survey respondents were engaged on posts of the individual scientists (five on Twitter and 33 on Instagram), and seven were engaged on posts of the eNGO communicators (all from Instagram). The majority (62%) of respondents who identified their age were between 19–33 years old, with a smaller proportion (16%) aged 5–18 and 34–49 combined ( Table 3 ). Only two of the survey participants were 50 or above. Most of the survey respondents who revealed their gender identified as female (82%) ( Table 3 ). The respondents were also highly educated and science-associated overall: 83% of respondents had some level of post-secondary education, and 80% consider themselves part of the scientific community ( Table 3 ). Although the majority of survey participants were well educated and science-associated, many users who participated in conversations on the posts of the science communicators were not scientists, especially those engaged with eNGO posts ( Table 2 ).



Some survey participants provided open text responses that explained why they engage in conversations on posts of the communicators, frequently expressing personal sentiments (emotional connections to the communicator and/or their posts) in their responses, rather than focusing on education or links to science. Those who prefer to engage in conversations on Twitter do so due to its short message length and focus on news/relevant information ( Table 4 ). The participants who expressed a preference for Instagram drew attention to its visual nature, its communication features, and its ease of use/functionality ( Table 4 ). Regardless of platform preference, the most cited reasons for using Twitter related to the participants’ work and their seeking news/information. In contrast, the participants use Instagram because of the platform’s visual nature, and for personal reasons such as self-expression, relationship-building, and connecting with friends/family ( Table 5 ). Personal sentiments also emerged when the respondents wrote about their motivation for following particular accounts. Although they follow the communicators to receive new information, many also do so because they find the communicators (or the content) to be relatable ( Table 5 ).





A theme that emerged from all survey responses was the participants’ sense of personal connection with the communicators, which encouraged participation in conversations, particularly on Instagram, which the participants viewed as a more personal social media platform compared to Twitter. For example, one participant stated: “it seems personal and engaging (photos and captions) but without the threat of things getting out of hand or out of context like on Twitter.” The survey respondents also noted that Instagram is quite conducive to communication, illustrated by the participant who stated: “I’m most active on Instagram and it’s easy to make and respond to comments, posts, and stories.” When the respondents commented about their decisions to engage with the communicators, many (12 out of 19) did so in terms of personal connections, perceived authenticity of the communicator, and feeling that they knew the owner of the account ( Table 5 ). For example, one wrote, “for me it is easier to contact a person instead of an organization with 'unknown faces' behind it.” Another respondent described a sense of comfort in interacting with organizations that are comprised of known individuals, “I use social media for work so I know there are ‘individuals’ behind the organization… However if I didn’t know the organisation, then I would be less likely to reply.”

When queried about establishing relationships with the communicators, 24 respondents added explanations, and 13—both those that do and do not feel that they have formed relationships with the communicator—commented specifically about two-way conversations. One did not feel an opportunity to form a relationship was presented, because direct interactions had only occurred with other users, not the communicator: “I don't think [the communicator has] ever responded to anything I've said on their post, responded to one of my posts, or anything of the like. It's impossible to feel any link if it's not reciprocal.” In contrast, those who formed relationships emphasized the dialogic interactions: “we have commented back and forth to each other as well as [direct messaged] in the past!” Two others expressed similar comments: “we talk in private as well as I do with my friends”; and: “I often message [them] if I need to know anything about being in academia, because I am new to it and [they are] really helpful.” One respondent also stressed that the way posts are presented on social media is crucial, and can result in a relationship-type connection in the absence of direct interactions with the communicator:

We don’t talk, but their welcoming demeanor and friendliness makes learning science personal. It feels like engaging with a friend. Their method of communication makes science a more fun and accessible conversation. You feel like you are involved, and you can always put forth your input without judgement—something that is super important because science can appear condescending to a lot of people. It’s constant learning and that’s all that matters.

Recognizing that social media provide a means of two-way interactions—which research suggests are crucial for effective communication [ 33 , 34 ]—individual scientists and NGOs are increasingly using social media platforms to communicate with their audiences and promote science literacy [ 46 , 47 , 68 , 75 , 106 ]. However, individual and NGO communicators have had difficulty fostering two-way exchanges with their audiences on social media [ 33 , 106 ]. With evidence that the way in which communicators use social media plays an important role in determining audience engagement [e.g., 31 ], this study investigated how individual and NGO communicators approach sharing scientific information on social media, and the strategies they apply to engage with their audiences (RQ1).

The individual and eNGO communicators in this study implement three strategy “filters” in a hierarchical manner to guide their posting activity. First, both communicator groups follow implicit platform conventions when sharing posts on social media. All of the communicators follow a similar approach to ensure their posts are consistent with audience expectations, for example, focusing on more news-centric content in Twitter posts (TRPs), and more visually interesting content in Instagram posts (IGPs).

Second, both of the communicator groups are intentional in how often they post on the social media platforms, as well as in the types of media they use in posts. This activity “filter” is applied differently between the communicator groups. For example, the eNGOs implement a more scheduled approach, typically posting frequently, at regular intervals, and mainly on Twitter. In contrast, the individual communicators are more flexible in how often they post, and share information mainly via Instagram, particularly Instagram stories (IGSs). However, the activity strategies applied by the communicators do not link directly with conversational engagement on their social media posts. When comparing proportional engagement between the communicators (normalizing engagement to the number of followers for each communicator), ORG2—which posts far more frequently than the other communicators—receives fewer comments than the other communicators, and is in conversations with fewer unique users. IND1 and IND2 post less frequently than the other communicators, but they do not receive lower engagement with regard to user comments or unique conversationalists. A link between media type used (frequency of text, images, videos) and conversational engagement is also not obvious. Furthermore, a connection between the platform given priority in practice (i.e., the platform posted to most frequently) and conversational engagement is not evident, as all of the eNGOs receive more engagement on IGPs than TRPs despite posting more frequently on Twitter than Instagram.

The data in this study show that the implementation of interpersonal social media strategies by the communicators (i.e., the third strategy “filter”) encourages conversational engagement (RQ2). The next section discusses the characteristics of interpersonal strategies that encourage communicators and audiences to participate in two-way conversations (RQ2).

Interpersonal communication strategies and social media engagement

A variety of interpersonal communication strategies have been demonstrated to affect social media engagement [ 62 ], many of which are used by both the individual and eNGO communicators. For example, both the individuals and eNGOs actively invite people to participate in conversations on their posts, which is important because this approach encourages engagement, an opportunity that would otherwise be missed [ 25 , 62 , 107 ]. However, the individual scientists more comprehensively implement interpersonal communication strategies. First, the individuals post selfies and selfie-style videos more frequently than the eNGOs. This difference is noteworthy for engagement, as social media users are more willing to comment on posts by communicators whom they know, and more likely to initiate conversations with communicators who are familiar to them [ 26 , 29 , 69 ]. Furthermore, previous research shows that speaking directly to social media audiences through the camera—as is common practice for the individuals in selfie-style videos—can personally connect communicators with audience members and help to build trust and establish communicator-audience relationships, even in the absence of direct communicator-user interactions [ 27 , 84 , 108 , 109 ]. In addition, research on interpersonal communication has shown that this form of communication entails establishing relationships among the participants [ 105 ]. The results of this study support the link between selfie-style posts, two-way conversations, and communicator-audience relationships, as the individual scientists receive more engagement than eNGOs overall, and successfully formed relationships with their audiences, even in the absence of direct interaction (as corroborated by the survey responses). The frequent use of selfie-style image and video posts appears to be an effective strategy to build trust, establish communicator-audience relationships, and stimulate discussions of science on social media, which science communicators could implement to encourage effective science communication.

The expression of interpersonal sentiments in posts is also important for social media engagement, as recent research suggests that content characteristics affect engagement. For example, when users see social media posts similar in nature to their own, they are better able to connect with the content on a personal level and engage with it [ 28 , 30 ]. Although both communicator groups discussed strategies to make their social media content more relatable, the individual scientists receive more engagement in terms of two-way conversations than eNGOs overall, which may be because the former choose to focus on posting personally-relatable content. When the individual scientists post off-topic content such as day-to-day activities and frequently use first person pronouns in posts, they create relatable, shared stories that are thought to be key for audience engagement [ 26 , 110 ]. In fact, posts with a personal sentiment or message (including those without any science content) can surpass scientific posts in terms of engagement, even on science-focused accounts [ 107 ]. A link between engagement and personal content was evident in the survey responses, which showed users choose to follow communicators with whom they can relate. The results of this study suggest that the use of personal and relatable social media content promotes more two-way interactions in social media with science communicators than would otherwise occur.

Previous studies show that using two-way conversations to form communicator-audience relationships is important for social media engagement. Two-way conversations can result in personal connections between users and organizations, and cultivate positive organization-public relationships, which are crucial because organizations often have difficulty in retaining engaged users on social media [ 62 , 111 – 113 ]. However, the means through which relationships are formed between organizations and users on social media goes beyond direct interactions, as research shows that a significant number of users are influenced by the interactions they see online. When communicators engage with an individual, they are indirectly affecting relationship perceptions for others who observe the interaction, even when no direct communication takes place with the latter [ 114 ]. Additionally, the survey responses demonstrate that communicators are capable of establishing relationships with audience members through the use of personal sentiments even in the absence of direct interactions. Therefore, because the eNGOs currently respond to a smaller proportion of audience comments compared with the individual scientists, the eNGOs engage in fewer two-way conversations and therefore may be more limited in their ability to form communicator-audience relationships than individuals. This outcome is supported by this study: two-way conversations between individual communicators and audience members resulted in the establishment of communicator-audience relationships, whereas the eNGOs communicators were less successful in forming relationships with their audiences. Furthermore, because more conversations can result when communicators form relationships with their audiences (as discussed above), two-way conversations and communicator-audience relationships appear to be mutually reinforcing. Consequently, focusing on responding to audience comments to form communicator-audience relationships is likely an effective strategy to create sustained social media engagement between science communicators and their audiences. One of the individual scientists emphasized that conversations are not limited to individual posts; instead, when communicators establish relationships with their audiences, the relationships allow conversations to extend beyond a discrete instance, and into a larger, ongoing conversation. Therefore, science communicators will benefit by being responsive to social media comments and working to establish communicator-audience relationships in order to facilitate longer-term, ongoing conversations about science [ 115 ].

Non-scientific audience engagement

Both the individuals and the eNGOs stated that they specifically target non-scientific audiences with their social media activity (although the communicators do not limit their audiences to non-scientific users alone). In the interviews, all seven communicators pointed out that they generally use Instagram to reach non-scientific audiences, as they feel the platform attracts a larger population of non-scientific users than Twitter. Studies have shown, however, that the educational distribution of users on Twitter and Instagram is relatively similar [ 116 , 117 ]. The apparent mismatch between the perception of the communicators and subscriber base of the two platforms may be due to the topics of focus by the communicators on social media and the audiences that they have built. To date, scientists have typically been heavier users of Twitter than Instagram, and because the communicators post an abundance of science-based content [ 78 , 79 ], they may attract more scientists via Twitter than Instagram. Furthermore, education level does not necessarily equate to science literacy. In this study, all of the communicators except IND1 appear to engage a larger proportion of scientific users in conversations on Twitter than on Instagram. Moreover, a higher proportion of users in conversations on posts by the eNGOs are non-scientific compared to the individual scientist communicators. This result is likely a consequence of the differences in target audiences, topics, and social media goals among the communicators indicated during interviews. Nonetheless, the individual scientists engage a mixed (scientific and non-scientific) audience on social media, particularly on Instagram. Therefore, as this study shows, focusing on Instagram as a platform to reach non-scientific audiences for science conversations could be an important science communication strategy.

Interpersonal communication afforded through Instagram

Determining the extent to which Instagram fosters social media engagement is another informative outcome in this study. Not only did a greater number of two-way conversations take place on Instagram than Twitter for nearly all of the communicators (including the eNGOs that do not prioritize the platform in practice), Instagram was favoured by the communicators and survey participants for conversation-related uses overall, particularly illustrated by their understanding of accepted social media practices. The visual, informal, multi-functional, cordial, and multimedia-focused nature of Instagram (both posts and stories) contributes to it being a more conversational platform than Twitter. Science communicators could capitalize on this functionality of Instagram to encourage more conversations and informative two-way science communication with diverse audiences.


This study is especially informative for understanding characteristics of science communication on social media, and could contribute to dialogic theory on science communication more broadly, as the results highlight factors that play an important role in fostering two-way exchanges [ 62 , 106 , 118 ]. The use of more formal methods typical of traditional science communication practices, i.e., through transfer of publications (data and information in various forms, e.g., peer-reviewed research papers) [ 119 – 122 ], often results in a transmission pathway, where conversations are limited between communicators and their audiences ( Fig 8 ). In contrast, the implementation of interpersonal strategies by science communicators promotes the formation of communicator-audience relationships and encourages audiences to participate in more two-way conversations, resulting in positive feedback effect ( Fig 8 ). Crucially, because the interpersonal communication practices observed in this study mainly relate to how content is shared rather than what information is shared or who it is shared with, such strategies are applicable to a wide diversity of subjects and audiences. Therefore, science communicators of all types (individual scientists, organizations, government agencies, etc.) can communicate interpersonally with citizens about a variety of scientific topics for which research information is relevant to make policy decisions, promoting citizens to be more scientifically engaged in environmental, health, and other issues.


Formal strategies are not sufficient to establish a relationship between audience and communicator, resulting solely in a transmission pathway. Interpersonal strategies act as enablers to information flow, resulting in communicator-audience relationships, which promote two-way conversations sustained over time.


For organizations such as eNGOs that are communicating with large non-scientific audiences, the potential to engage citizens in the science of environmental issues through interpersonal strategies is high. Importantly, because organizations do not operate in the same manner as individual scientists, they may be more limited in their ability to adopt interpersonal communications (for example, organizations are staffed by multiple individuals, and/or may be hesitant to share off-topic content or use first person pronouns due to organization culture) [ 123 , 124 ]. Furthermore, organizations face particular challenges and risks when using social media, such as losing control of the narrative of messages or being portrayed as less authoritative, which are not eliminated with the implementation of interpersonal strategies. In such cases, organizations could develop specific guidelines for implementing interpersonal communication into their social media activities in a manner consistent with higher-level organization practices. Nonetheless, because the eNGOs in this study share many goals with the individual scientists (such as encouraging two-way science conversations), eNGOs could apply interpersonal communication strategies—through a “spokesperson,” for example—and promote improved scientific literacy in their audiences on environmental issues that the organizations are engaged with.

Although this research investigated science communication on social media, the interpersonal strategies observed to promote conversations with citizens are applicable to all science communicators in diverse environments. Science communicators working to engage their audiences with environmental research information can apply interpersonal techniques offline as well as online. For example, communicators could utilize interpersonal communication strategies to establish relationships with relevant stakeholder groups involved in participatory policy processes and gain a better understanding of stakeholder concerns, ultimately leading to greater cooperation and more effective management decisions that are inclusive of stakeholder values [ 115 ].

Limitations and future work

The sample size of communicator participants was selected to examine the research question in a detailed and qualitatively data-rich manner rather than be representative of all scientists and eNGOs communicating on social media; nonetheless, increasing the number of communicator participants could reveal whether the conclusions of this study hold across a broader group of communicators and their audiences. Additionally, a longer period of study than was the source of data in this research, would provide further insights into communication patterns, such as how social media behaviours may be changing over time, regarding platform functionality and the way in which users employ social media tools (for example, a new feature called Instagram TV was instituted while this research was in progress). The ways in which social media research is conducted may also be required to change over time as the relationship between researchers and platform providers evolves and data access shifts [ 125 , 126 ]. The study was focused on Twitter and Instagram; future work could include other popular social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to advance understanding of the effects of interpersonal communication on engagement across more platforms. The communicator participants in this study share slightly different information on social media (i.e., the individual scientists focused mainly on a range of science topics, whereas the eNGOs included more politics and advocacy, with science aspects), which could affect audience engagement. Further research could compare individual scientists and eNGOs focusing on a single science topic to identify any effect of content topic on audience engagement.

The demographic concentration of the survey participants tended toward younger, highly educated respondents. Future work could use sampling techniques to evaluate whether links exist between demographic characteristics and the choice to participate in social media conversations, as well as survey a larger number of audience members to draw broader representative conclusions. Furthermore, conversation quality and message framing were not measured to determine the extent to which social media conversations were scientifically meaningful and learning-oriented, or how messages were framed. Additional investigation into social media as tools to facilitate a participatory model of communication could advance understanding of conversation quality. Evidence from the survey in this study suggests that communicators are positively influencing audience behaviour. For example, 44% of the survey participants (n = 41) feel inspired by communicator posts to make behaviour changes in regard to the natural environment. Therefore, future research that focused on conversation quality could provide additional insight into the effectiveness of science communication to influence behavior. Determining deeper understanding of the extent to which communicators are reaching non-scientific audiences, and how communicator-audience networks are structured and operate, could be obtained through studies that investigate how to measure the level of effectiveness of conversations in communicator/audience interactions, the role of communicator/audience networks, and the presence of lurkers in such networks.


A social media presence by itself is not sufficient for successful communication; how social media tools are used to encourage two-way conversations is an important determinant of engagement [ 25 , 118 ]. Both the individual and eNGO communicator groups in this study share similar communication goals and conveyed strong awareness of strategies known to be effective for science communication (such as two-way conversations). The two communicator groups apply interpersonal communication strategies differently in their social media activity. One difference that emerged is their overall application of interpersonal communication strategies. The individual scientists particularly focus on making themselves known and relatable communicators throughout their social media activity, and on establishing relationships with their audiences. In practice, the individuals achieve this outcome by posting more selfies (images and videos), posting more off-topic content, responding to more comments, and using more personal pronoun-prominent language than the eNGOs achieved. The individual scientists also prioritize Instagram over Twitter (and particularly Instagram stories), which more readily supports the implementation of interpersonal communication strategies than Twitter. This emphasis by the individual scientists on interpersonal communication promotes the formation of communicator-audience relationships, encouraging more two-way conversations and generating greater numbers of opportunities to form relationships with their audiences than the eNGOs. In other words, the results of this study show that a combination of interpersonal communication strategies, and their application throughout the social media activity of science communicators via the features of the social media platforms, especially in Instagram, play an important role in determining audience participation in two-way conversations, and ultimately affect how audience members engage with communicators over time.

Supporting information

S1 table. codes and definitions used to characterize twitter post, instagram post, and instagram story content..



The individual scientists, eNGOs, and survey participants who participated in this study are acknowledged with thanks. Peter Wells, International Ocean Institute Canada, and Suzuette Soomai, Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans, provided helpful insights. This paper benefitted from the detailed assessment by the PLOS ONE anonymous reviewers.

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International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction

HCI 2015: HCI International 2015 - Posters’ Extended Abstracts pp 91–96 Cite as

Social Media Use and Impact on Interpersonal Communication

  • Yerika Jimenez 2 &
  • Patricia Morreale 3  
  • Conference paper
  • First Online: 01 January 2015

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Part of the Communications in Computer and Information Science book series (CCIS,volume 529)

This research paper presents the findings of a research project that investigated how young adult interpersonal communications have changed since using social media. Specifically, the research focused on determining if using social media had a beneficial or an adverse effect on the development of interaction and communication skills of young adults. Results from interviews reveal a negative impact in young adult communications and social skills. In this paper young adult preferences in social media are also explored, to answer the question: Does social media usage affect the development of interaction and communication skills for young adults and set a basis for future adult communication behaviors?

  • Social media
  • Social interaction
  • Interpersonal communications
  • Young adults

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1 Introduction

Human interaction has changed drastically in the last 20 years, not only due to the introduction of the Internet, but also from social media and online communities. These social media options and communities have grown from being simply used to communicate on a private network into a strong culture that almost all individuals are using to communicate with others all over the world. We will concentrate on the impact that social media has on human communication and interaction among young adults, primarily college students. In today’s society, powerful social media platforms such as Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (IG), and Pinterest have been the result of an evolution that is changing how humans communicate with each other. The big question we asked ourselves was how much has social media really impacted the way that humans communicate and interact with each other, and if so, how significant is the change of interpersonal interaction among young adults in the United States today?

The motivation behind this research has been personal experience with interaction and communication with friends and family; it had become difficult, sometimes even rare, to have a one-on-one conversation with them, without having them glancing at or interacting with their phone. Has social interaction changed since the introduction of advanced technology and primarily social media? In correlation with the research data collected in this study, it was concluded that many participants’ personal communication has decreased due social media influence encouraging them to have online conversations, as opposed to face-to-face, in-person conversations.

2 Related Work

The question of how social media affects social and human interaction in our society is being actively researched and studied. A literature review highlights the positive and negative aspects of social media interaction, as researchers battle to understand the current and future effects of social media interaction. A study done by Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, suggests that the brain may interpret digital interaction in the same manner as in-person interaction, while others maintain that differences are growing between how we perceive one another online as opposed to in reality [ 1 ]. This means that young adults can interpret online communication as being real one-on-one communication because the brain will process that information as a reality. Another study revealed that online interaction helps with the ability to relate to others, tolerate differing viewpoints, and express thoughts and feeling in a healthy way [ 2 , 3 ]. Moreover a study executed by the National Institutes of Health found that youths with strong, positive face-to-face relationships may be those most frequently using social media as an additional venue to interact with their peers [ 4 ].

In contrast, research reveals that individuals with many friends may appear to be focusing too much on Facebook, making friends out of desperation rather than popularity, spending a great deal of time on their computer ostensibly trying to make connections in a computer-mediated environment where they feel more comfortable rather than in face-to-face social interaction [ 5 ]. Moreover, a study among college freshman revealed that social media prevents people from being social and networking in person [ 6 ].

3 Experimental Design

This research study was divided into two parts during the academic year 2013–2014. Part one, conducted during fall semester 2013, had the purpose of understanding how and why young adults use their mobile devices, as well as how the students describe and identify with their mobile devices. This was done by distributing an online survey to several Kean University student communities: various majors, fraternity and sorority groups, sports groups, etc. The data revealed that users primarily used their mobile devices for social media and entertainment purposes. The surveyed individuals indicated that they mainly accessed mobile apps like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram, to communicate, interact, and share many parts of their daily life with their friends and peers.

Based on the data collected during part one, a different approach and purpose was used for part two, with the goal being to understand how social media activities shape the communication skills of individuals and reflects their attitudes, attention, interests, and activities. Additionally, research included how young adult communication needs change through the use of different social media platforms, and if a pattern can be predicted from the users’ behavior on the social media platforms. Part two of this research was conducted by having 30 one-on-one interviews with young adults who are college students. During this interview key questions were asked in order to understand if there is a significant amount of interpersonal interaction between users and their peers. Interpersonal interaction is a communication process that involves the exchange of information, feelings and meaning by means of verbal or non-verbal messages. For the purposes of this paper, only the data collected during spring 2014 is presented.

4 Data Collection

Through interviews, accurate results of the interaction of young adults with social media were collected. These interviews involved 30 one-on-one conversations with Kean University students. Having one-on-one interviews with participants allowed for individual results, first responses from the participant, without permitting responses being skewed or influenced by other participants, such as might occur in group interviews. It also allows users to give truthful answers, in contrast to an online or paper survey, as they might have second thoughts about an answer and change it. The one-on-one interviews consisted of ten open-ended questions, which were aimed to answer, and ultimately determine, how social media interaction involuntarily influences, positively or negatively, an individual’s attitude, attention, interests, and social/personal activities. The largest motive behind the questions was to determine how individual communication skills, formally and informally, have changed from interacting with various social media platforms. The interviews, along with being recorded on paper, were also video and audio-recorded. The average time for each interview was between two to ten minutes. These interviews were held in quiet labs and during off-times, so that the responses could be given and recorded clearly and without distraction (Fig.  1 ). A total of 19 females and 11 males participated, with ages ranging from 19 to 28 years old.

figure 1

Female participant during one-on-one interview

After conducting the interviews and analyzing the data collected, it was determined that the age when participants, both male and female, first began to use social media ranged between 9 to 17 years. It was found that, generally, males began to use social media around the age of 13, whereas females started around the age of 12. The average age for males starting to use social media is about 12.909 with a standard deviation of 2.343. For females, the average age is 12.263 with a standard deviation of 1.627. From this, we can determine that males generally begin to use social media around the age of 13, whereas females begin around the age of 12.

After determining the average age of when participants started using social media, it was necessary to find which social media platforms they had as a basis; meaning which social media platform they first used. MySpace was the first social media used by twenty-three participants, followed by Facebook with three users, and Mi Gente by only one user, with two participants not using social media at all. It was interesting to find that all of the participants who started using Myspace migrated to Facebook. The reasoning provided was that “everyone [they knew] started to use Facebook.” According to the participants, Facebook was “more interactive” and was “extremely easy to use.” The participants also stated that Myspace was becoming suitable for a younger user base, and it got boring because they needed to keep changing their profile backgrounds and modifying their top friends, which caused rifts or “popularity issues” between friends. After finding out which platform they started from, it was also essential to find out which platform they currently use. However, one platform that seemed to be used by all participants to keep up-to-date with their friends and acquaintances was Instagram, a picture and video-based social media platform. Another surprising finding was that many users did not use Pinterest at all, or had not even heard of the platform. After determining which social media platforms the users migrated to, it was essential to identify what caused the users to move from one platform to another. What are the merits of a certain platform that caused the users to migrate to it, and what are the drawbacks of another platform that caused users to migrate from it or simply not use it all?

4.1 Social Interaction Changes

For some participants social interaction had a chance for a positive outcome, while others viewed it in a more negative aspect. The participants were asked if their social interactions have changed since they were first exposed to social media (Table  1 ). One participant stated that “it is easier to just look at a social media page to see how friends and family are doing rather than have a one-on-one interaction.” As for people’s attitudes, they would rather comment or “like” a picture than stop and have a quick conversation. On the other hand, another participant felt that social media helped them when talking and expressing opinions on topics that they generally would not have discussed in person. Moreover, the participants are aware of the actions and thing that they are doing but continue to do it because they feel comfortable and did not desire to have one-on-one interactions with people.

The participants were also asked to explain how social media changed their communication and interactions during the years of using social media (Table  2 ). The data shows that participants interact less in person because they are relating more via online pictures and status. For other participants, it made them more cautious and even afraid of putting any personal information online because it might cause problems or rifts in their life. On the contrary, some participants stated that their communication and interaction is the same; however, they were able to see how it had changed for the people that are around them. A participant stated that “internet/social media is a power tool that allows people to be whatever they want and in a way it creates popularity, but once again they walk around acting like they do not know you and ‘like’ your pictures the next day.”

5 Discussion

The data illustrated in this paper shows how much the introduction and usage of social media has impacted the interaction and communication of young adults. The future of interaction and communication was also presented as a possibility, if the current trend continues with young adults and social media or online communities. This raises the notion of possibly not having any social, in-person interaction and having all communication or interaction online and virtually with all family and friends.

6 Conclusion

Referring back to the question asked during the introduction: how much has social media impacted the way we communicate and interact with each other? After reviewing all the findings, seeing the relationship individuals have with their mobile phones, and comparing social media platforms, it is clear that many young adults have an emotional attachment with their mobile device and want interaction that is quick and to the point, with minimal “in-person” contact. Many young adults prefer to use their mobile device to send a text message or interact via social media. This is due to their comfort level being higher while posting via social media applications, as opposed to in-person interaction. To successfully and accurately answer the question: yes, social media has had a very positive and negative effect on the way we communicate and interact with each other. However, how effective is this method of “virtual” communication and interaction in the real world?

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Jimenez, Y., Morreale, P. (2015). Social Media Use and Impact on Interpersonal Communication. In: Stephanidis, C. (eds) HCI International 2015 - Posters’ Extended Abstracts. HCI 2015. Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol 529. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-21383-5_15

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Interpersonal Communication Research Paper Topics

Academic Writing Service

  • Comforting Communication
  • Communication and Relationship Rules
  • Communication Apprehension
  • Communicator Style
  • Dating Relationships
  • Deception Detection Accuracy
  • Deceptive Message Production
  • Disclosure in Interpersonal Communication
  • Environment and Social Interaction
  • Expectancy Violation
  • Eye Behavior
  • Facial Expressions
  • Friendship and Peer Interaction
  • Gestures and Kinesics
  • Imagined Interactions
  • Impression Management
  • Ingratiation and Affinity Seeking
  • Initial Interaction
  • Interaction Adaptation Theory
  • Interpersonal Attraction
  • Interpersonal Communication Competence and Social Skills
  • Interpersonal Conflict
  • Long-Distance Relationships
  • Marital Communication
  • Marital Typologies

Mediated Social Interaction

  • Negotiation and Bargaining
  • Online Relationships
  • Paralanguage
  • Politeness Theory
  • Power, Dominance, and Social Interaction
  • Reciprocity and Compensation in Interaction
  • Relational Control
  • Relational Dialectics
  • Relational Maintenance
  • Relational Schemas
  • Relational Termination
  • Relational Uncertainty

Relationship Development

  • Schemas, Knowledge Structures, and Social Interaction
  • Self-Presentation
  • Sex and Gender Differences in Interpersonal Communication
  • Sibling Interaction
  • Social Aspects of Goals
  • Social Exchange
  • Social Interaction Structure
  • Social Support in Interpersonal Communication
  • Uncertainty Management
  • Uncertainty Reduction Theory
  • Verbal Aggressiveness

Uncertainty in Interpersonal Communication

When individuals engage in social interaction with each other, they cannot be completely certain of their conversational partners’ current goals, emotional states, beliefs, attitudes, and future actions. Individuals also harbor uncertainties about how they should act toward their partners. These uncertainties are maximal when strangers meet, but uncertainties can also arise in close relationships of long duration. Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT; Berger & Calabrese 1975) proposes that individuals must reduce their uncertainties to some degree in order to be able to fashion verbal discourse and actions that will allow them to achieve their interaction goals.

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URT has found purchase in explaining social interaction in intercultural (Gudykunst 1995) and organizational (Kramer 2004) communication contexts. Individuals may experience uncertainty with respect to their relationships with each other, and individuals may not necessarily be motivated to reduce their uncertainty when they anticipate experiencing negative outcomes by so doing.

Interpersonal Adaption

When individuals converse, they show strong proclivities to reciprocate each other’s verbal and nonverbal behaviors. Although the forces for reciprocity in social interaction are highly pervasive, there are conditions under which interacting individuals will show compensation in response to each other’s behaviors. Compensation occurs when a behavior displayed by one person is not matched in some way by another. A number of alternative theories have been devised to illuminate the conditions under which reciprocity and compensation are likely to occur, especially with respect to nonverbal behaviors. Although these theories differ in terms of their explanations for reciprocity/compensation, they share a common assumption that when expectations for nonverbal behavior are violated, individuals tend to experience arousal. Research comparing these theories has been inconclusive and has prompted the development of Interaction Adaptation Theory (Burgoon et al. 2010).

Message Production

Just as language is a tool for attaining everyday goals, social interaction is an instrument for goal achievement. Consistent with this proposition, constructivist researchers have endeavored to determine the characteristics of messages deemed to be effective for achieving a variety of goals, most of them concerned with persuasion. A more comprehensive and abstract message production theory labeled Action Assembly Theory (Greene 1997) has been developed to explain how individuals produce actions and discourse. Theories featuring such knowledge structures as scripts and plans have also been devised (Berger 1997). According to these Goal- Plan-Action (GPA) theories (Dillard et al. 2002), scripts and plans are hierarchically organized knowledge structures representing action sequences that will bring about the achievement of goals. Once goals are activated, these knowledge structures guide actions toward goal attainment.

Interpersonal communication plays a critical role in the development, maintenance, and deterioration of social and personal relationships. A central question researchers have sought to answer is why some relationships become closer over time while others grow distant and perhaps end. Social exchange theories have frequently been invoked to explain why relationship growth and deterioration occur (Roloff 1981). These theories suggest that individuals experience both rewards for and costs of being in relationships with each other. Favorable relative reward/cost ratios fuel relationship growth, whereas unfavorable ratios are associated with relationship deterioration. Relational dialectics researchers contend that the development of relationships is fraught with dialectical tensions that may serve to pull individuals in opposite directions simultaneously (Baxter & Montgomery 1996). Because tensions between these polarities shift over time, relationships are in a constant state of flux.

Deceptive Communication

Many interpersonal communication researchers recognize that deception is an integral part of social interaction. Many times ‘white lies’ are told to help co-interlocutors save face when potentially embarrassing circumstances arise in social situations. Two enduring questions concerning deceptive communication have attracted considerable research attention. One of these concerns the degree to which engaging in deception alters nonverbal behaviors; i.e. do truth tellers’ nonverbal behaviors differ systematically from those of individuals who are telling lies? Specific behaviors may be diagnostic of deceptive communication in specific individuals; however, no universal nonverbal indicator of deceptive communication has yet been identified. The second enduring question is the degree to which individuals are skilled at detecting deception. Research has shown that most individuals, including law-enforcement professionals, are not very adept at detecting deception.

Increasingly, social interaction is being accomplished through various communication technologies. These developments have prompted a concomitant increase in research aimed at understanding their potential individual and social effects. Research has sought to determine how computer-mediated communication (CMC) and face-to-face (FtF) interaction differ with respect the outcomes associated with their use (Walther 2010). Because text-based CMC filters out many nonverbal cues available to people engaged in FtF interactions, it is presumed that communication via textbased CMC is more task focused than is FtF communication. Although relatively cue-deprived, text-based CMC venues may be useful for initially encountering and screening potential friends and romantic partners, they apparently do not afford sufficient information for developing close relationships. Individuals who initially meet in the textbased CMC world usually elect to communicate with each other through other channels, e.g., phone and FtF encounters.


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Communication, the Heart of a Relationship: Examining Capitalization, Accommodation, and Self-Construal on Relationship Satisfaction

Priscilla maria de netto.

1 Department of Psychology, Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Monash University Malaysia, Subang Jaya, Malaysia

Kia Fatt Quek

2 Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Monash University Malaysia, Subang Jaya, Malaysia

Karen Jennifer Golden

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The raw data of this research will be made available by the corresponding authors upon request. Further enquiries can be directed to the corresponding authors.

The study of processes that enrich positive relationships has been an under-researched area within positive psychology practice. The way an individual responds during couple conflicts (accommodation response) and toward the disclosure of good news of a partner (capitalization response) has been linked to relationship quality. Although the accommodation and capitalization communication processes are part and parcel of our everyday lives, the two processes have been examined separately and dominated by the Western perspectives in past research. Prior work has suggested that Western and Asian cultures differ in expressing and perceiving beneficial communication behaviors. Yet, it is still unclear which accommodation and capitalization responses matter the most from an Asian lens. To date, there is no research examining these interconnected variables simultaneously in Asia, specifically in Malaysia. In this study, two forms of communication processes, namely, (1) accommodation and (2) capitalization, were explored concurrently to disentangle the unique associations and influence on relationship satisfaction. This study also sought to understand the moderating effects of culture in terms of interdependent self-construal on the link between these two communication processes and relationship satisfaction. Responses of 139 Malaysians in dating relationships between the age of 18 and 30 years ( M age = 23.15) were collected through online surveys. An active and constructive reaction was captured as the most favorable response through both the capitalization and accommodation processes. Prominently, an active-constructive capitalization response bore the strongest influence on relationship satisfaction above and beyond other responses. A passive and constructive response was revealed only fruitful for disclosures of positive news and not during conflicts. Conversely, in the destructive paradigm, passive-destructive responses were the most detrimental factor in relationships compared to other destructive responses. The results also uncovered that interdependent self-construal did not moderate the two forms of communication processes. However, the findings discovered unexpected individual and cultural variations. This pioneering study is a noteworthy addition to the positive psychology literature from an Asian standpoint. It highlights the significance of not only protecting relationships through better conflict management but also enriching relationships by capitalizing on the positive aspects across the lives of the couple, ultimately providing a greater holistic insight into cultivating flourishing lives.


“ Man is by nature a social animal … Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god .” –Aristotle

The long-asserted avowal of Aristotle is not an unfamiliar statement to society. As social beings, we are wired to connect (Lieberman, 2013 ), and our relationships are the essence of a happy and flourishing life (Valliant, 2002 , 2012 ). Lieberman ( 2013 ) unmasked that our need to connect is as fundamental as our need for food, water, and shelter. Neuroscientists discovered that our brain responds to social pain and pleasure in the same powerful way as to physical pain and pleasure (Eisenberger, 2012 ; Hsu et al., 2015 ). The fact that we are wired as such means that our physical, emotional, and mental well-being depends on the positive interpersonal relationships in our everyday lives (Fishbane, 2007 ; Luong et al., 2011 ). In particular, our romantic relationships, which are seen as a near-universal need across cultures and various ages, have a powerful influence on our well-being (Jankowiak and Fisher, 1992 ; Kansky, 2018 ; Fletcher et al., 2019 ).

Evidence also recognizes that the impact of the relationship of an individual on well-being is contingent on the cultural values, orientation, and norms of a person germane to the social and interaction context in which the relationship exists (Kim et al., 2008 ). In general, positive psychology research studies around the world have been largely based on Caucasian samples, and more research is recommended to explore diversity in the science of positive psychology (Rao and Donaldson, 2015 ). Yet, the influence of culture on specific patterns of positive interactions regarding the realm of dating relationships in Malaysia and throughout Asia is relatively untapped. Notably, there has been a gap with limited positive psychology research and practice in Malaysia (Hashim, 2013 ; Hendriks et al., 2019 ).

The way an individual responds during couple conflicts (accommodation response) (i.e., Rusbult et al., 1991 ; Crowley, 2006 ) and toward disclosure of good news by a partner (capitalization response) (i.e., Gable et al., 2004 , 2006 ) has been linked to relationship satisfaction and stability. More specifically, constructive accommodation and capitalization responses through couple conflicts and triumphs are associated with greater relationship well-being (Gable et al., 2004 ). Although the accommodation and capitalization communication processes are part and parcel of our everyday lives, these two processes have been examined separately and dominated by the Western perspectives in past research. Prior work has suggested that Western and Asian cultures differ in expressing and perceiving beneficial communication behaviors (e.g., Wang et al., 2010 ; Choi et al., 2019 ). Of concern, it is still unclear which accommodation and capitalization responses matter the most from an Asian lens thus far. To date, there is no research examining these interconnected variables simultaneously in Malaysia and across Asia. In this exploratory study, two forms of communication processes, accommodation, and capitalization were explored to disentangle the unique associations with relationship satisfaction, contributing to positive psychology insights for enriching relationships in an Asian context, specifically in Malaysia. Since Malaysia is a country with a melting pot of ethnicities and unique historical influences (Nagaraj et al., 2015 ; Park, 2015 ; The Malaysian Administrative Modernisation Management Planning Unit, 2016 ), this study may offer a different and novel positive psychology perspective to the constructs understudied. This study also sought to understand the moderating influence of culture in terms of self-construal on the link between these two communication processes and relationship satisfaction.

Literature Review

Romantic relationships, satisfaction, and communication.

There has been a great deal of literature examining overall relationship satisfaction and its consequences due to the considerable impact of romantic relationships on well-being (Karney and Bradbury, 1995 ; Bradbury et al., 2000 ; Dush and Amato, 2005 ; Fincham and Beach, 2010 ; Gomez-Lopez et al., 2019 ). When relationships are satisfying and fulfilling, couples are happier and healthier (Proulx et al., 2007 ), but when thwarted, other pillars of well-being can be jeopardized, such as mortality (Robles et al., 2014 ) and mental health, for example, increase in depression and anxiety symptoms (Snyder et al., 2005 ). Notably, the most prominent research on relationship satisfaction has been The Harvard University Adult Study of Development, the lengthiest longitudinal study in the positive psychology literature of the world with more than 80 years of research. This research called to the attention of audiences widespread regarding the importance of relationship satisfaction for flourishing lives as they found individuals in more satisfying marriages at age 50 had greater mental, emotional, and physical health at age 80 (Valliant, 2002 , 2012 ; Waldinger and Schulz, 2010 ; Waldinger et al., 2014 ). Hence, not surprisingly, couple satisfaction has been viewed as the gold standard for assessing interventions to alleviate relationship distress and sustain thriving relationships (Fincham et al., 2018 ).

Relationship satisfaction has often been referred to as the global relationship measure (Tam et al., 2011a ) and tends to be used interchangeably in the literature with terms such as relationship success, well-being, happiness, adjustment, and quality of a relationship (e.g., Vangelisti, 2004 ; Fincham and Rogge, 2010 ; Fincham et al., 2018 ). A satisfying relationship has been identified as a significant predictor of relationship well-being and longevity (Barnes et al., 2007 ; Ruffieux et al., 2014 ), yet it can feel like an unsolvable riddle to many couples. Given the strong predictive connection between relationship satisfaction and important life implications, it is critical to explore why some relationships lead to satisfaction and some fail? Why does a once loving and promising relationship break down over time? Interestingly, longitudinal (Karney and Bradbury, 1995 ; Gottman and Silver, 1999 ; Byers, 2005 ) and cross-sectional (Woodin, 2011 ) studies have unearthed that communication is pivotal in solving this riddle.

Communication has been found to be the bedrock or the “heart” in supporting and promoting relationship satisfaction (Gottman and Krokoff, 1989 ; Gottman and DeClaire, 2002 ; Markman et al., 2010 ; Hiew et al., 2016 ; Ogolsky et al., 2017 ), with recent findings linking satisfaction with constructive responses in conflicts (accommodation) and sharing of personal triumphs (capitalization). Within the Malaysian context, good communication has been reported as a core contributing factor to harnessing a happy and satisfying marriage (Abidin, 2019 ; Noor et al., 2019 ), thereby making a lack of effective communication and misunderstandings being one of the main reasons for relationship dissolutions (National Population Family Development Board Malaysia., 2016 ). On top of that, marital research experts have suggested that it is not the sheer frequency of positive to negative communication behaviors that influences the satisfaction of a couple, but the ratio of positive behaviors outweighing negative behaviors, 5:1, that leads to satisfaction (Gottman and Levenson, 1992 ; Gottman and Gottman, 2017 ). However, what is viewed as positive communication and rewarding in Western cultures may look different in Asian cultures.

Researchers over the years have argued that Western and Asian cultures differ in how they express and perceive beneficial communication behaviors (e.g., Wang et al., 2010 ; Williamson et al., 2012 ; Yum et al., 2015 ; Wang and Lau, 2018 ; Rajaei et al., 2019 ). Further, Finkle et al. ( 2017 ) have also surmised that favorable responses need to be tailored to the unique situational context of the couple and that responsiveness (i.e., showing understanding, care, and validation) would not be entirely universal to all circumstances. Thus, the maintenance of a satisfying relationship cannot be fully understood and appreciated without sufficient knowledge of the cultural underpinnings of communication in romantic relationships and specific situational contexts. While a few studies have examined certain variables and couple satisfaction in Malaysia (e.g., Hoesni et al., 2016 ; Abdullah et al., 2017 ; Abidin et al., 2018 ), knowledge about the psychology of positive communication processes through conflicts and triumphs and how culture impacts these interactional processes are rather oblique.

Communication and Self-Construal

An underlying assumption of this current research was that individuals who vary in culture in terms of self-construal also differ in the way they perceive beneficial responses of their partner. Culture influences the behavior of an individual indirectly through molding personality dispositions such as self-construal (Yum, 2004 ), and research has shown that the variations in communicative behaviors could be explained by considering self-construal (Markus and Kitayama, 1991 ). Self-construal signifies the culturally contingent beliefs, feelings, and actions of an individual related to the understanding of the self as associated to others, in terms of members of in-groups (interdependence; InterSC) or separate from others (independence; IndSc) (Markus and Kitayama, 1991 ; Cross et al., 2011 ). The dominant self-construal of an individual is fundamentally driven by an individualism-collectivism cultural environment (Triandis, 1995 ). Generally, Western cultures adopt individualistic values while Eastern cultures are described to hold collectivistic values (Hofstede, 2001 ). In individualistic societies, people lean toward developing an independent self (IndSc) and value unique feelings and ideas, where asserting personal desires, goals, and emotions are favorable (Markus and Kitayama, 1991 ). Contrarily, people in collectivistic societies tend to view the self as interdependent with values of relational harmony and are socialized to accommodate groups and subordination of personal desires (Morling et al., 2002 ).

While verbal expression and direct communication is common practice in IndSc dominant cultures (Kim and Markus, 2002 ), indirect and less expressive communication is preferred by InterSc cultures as verbalizing internal states may be seen as disruptive to group harmony (Kim and Sherman, 2007 ; Ma-Kellams and Blascovich, 2012 ). Therefore, people in Malaysia who are traditionally in a collectivist society (Hofstede, 2001 ; Ting and Ying, 2013 ) would presumably hold a more dominant InterSC and may use and prefer different communicative behaviors compared to individualistic societies. Evidently, Yum et al. ( 2015 ) found that Malaysians use less direct communication and self-disclosure to express their commitment and affection compared to Americans. Moreover, Malaysians place great weight on the collective well-being (Kennedy, 2002 ) and tend to practice caution and indirectness in daily communication (Bakar et al., 2007 , 2014 ). Thus, the Malaysian culture inhibits assertiveness and confrontational behaviors to maintain harmony within relationships (Kennedy, 2002 ). This knowledge suggests that the culture of an individual with respect to the dominant self-construal may impact the type of approach and how efficacious communication behaviors are anticipated to be. Thus, the positive association between active communication behaviors (e.g., positive verbal expression) and the negative association between passive communication behaviors (e.g., withdrawal from the conversation), with relationship satisfaction in Western societies, may not be universal to Asian societies, particularly in the Malaysian cultural atmosphere.

Communication Through Conflicts: Accommodation, Self-Construal, and Satisfaction

Unraveling the mystery surrounding the riddle of achieving satisfying relationships is even more perplexing when communicative behaviors may operate differently in a different context. A growing body of literature has examined communicative processes within conflictual contexts, namely, accommodative behaviors, which is described as inhibiting natural reflexes of reacting negatively to the transgressions of a partner and instead respond positively (Rusbult et al., 1991 ; Overall and Sibley, 2008 ; Overall et al., 2010 ). Irrespective of how compatible partners are in a relationship, conflict is inevitable (Rusbult et al., 1991 ), and all partners will occasionally behave in an unpleasant manner such as yelling or saying hurtful remarks (Yovetich and Rusbult, 1994 ; Kilpatrick et al., 2002 ; Crowley, 2006 ). To protect the quality of the romantic relationship in the long run, couples must override the urge to act destructively during conflicts, hence the term accommodation (Campbell and Staton, 2013 ). The accommodation model is measured along two dimensions and is differentiated into four types of responses: active-constructive (discussing problems and attempts to resolve the problem), passive-constructive (silently forgives and waits for things to improve), active-destructive (criticizing and threatening to leave the partner), and passive-destructive (ignoring the partner and problem) (Rusbult et al., 1982 , 1991 ; Overall et al., 2010 ).

Consider this example scenario in daily life where Liam raises his voice toward Camelia in a conversation after a long day at work. Camelia “bites the bullet” and reacts active-constructively or passive-constructively by either asking him whether he needs to talk about his day or calmly shrugging it off. Constructive responses, like that of Camelia, have been linked to better couple functioning in prior work (Rusbult et al., 1982 , 1991 ). To elaborate more, the pioneer study by Rusbult et al. ( 1991 ) revealed that responding in both an active or passive constructive manner during conflicts and toward the transgressions of a partner preserves relationship satisfaction and stability. However, a later study discovered that only active-constructive responses were associated to elevated feelings of closeness, value, relationship stability, and satisfaction (Overall et al., 2010 ). Conversely, passive-constructive responses did not produce the same benefits, were less noticed, and results were parallel to harmful implications of destructive responses (Overall et al., 2010 ). Such counterintuitive findings carry doubts and uncertainty surrounding the passive-constructive communication in conflicts within Western society. There is even greater ambiguity regarding these communicative behaviors in Asian society, whereupon the accommodation research is rather scarce.

When discussing problems, those with InterSc (i.e., Asian societies) have been typically associated with an indirect communication style (Gudykunst and Matsumoto, 1996 ), where the listener is expected to deduce the unexpressed meaning of the speaker through non-verbal cues (Ting-Toomey, 1999 ). In contrast, those with IndSc (i.e., Western societies) tend to disclose thoughts and feelings more explicitly (Ting-Toomey, 1999 ). Other empirical support exists in the view that members from Asian cultures deter from expressing distress as it may threaten relationship ties due to the possibility of burdening others or conflicts (Wang et al., 2010 ), which prompts them to oblige to others more (Oetzel and Ting-Toomey, 2003 ). Of the few studies regarding accommodation in Asia, the only exception in the literature examining self-construal in accommodative dilemmas is by Yum ( 2004 ) on 397 individuals from the United States, Hawaii, and Korea. Yum ( 2004 ) found that both IndSC and InterSC were inclined to respond in an active-constructive and passive-constructive manner in dating relationships, suggesting that accommodation may be a culturally universal behavior in dating relationships. However, those with InterSC enacted more passive-constructive communicative behaviors. Interestingly, Yum ( 2004 ) also found that some participants were bicultural (high in both InterSC and IndSC) and marginal (low in both InterSC and IndSC), with biculturals being better communicators compared to those with high InterSC. Yum ( 2004 ) explained that the disparities and new findings may be due to modernization, implying that behaviors of people are influenced by the degree of democratization, industrialization, and westernization within the environmental culture they live in. While a few studies in Malaysia have investigated couple communication tactics in conflicts (e.g., Tam et al., 2011b ; Abdullah et al., 2017 ), there is no literature focused directly on accommodation processes. It is also not yet known to what extent dating partners in Malaysia may perceive beneficial responses in managing conflicts. Henceforth, based on the findings and reasoning above, Malaysians may find both active and passive constructive accommodation responses as favorable reactions during conflicts, which would positively relate to their relationship satisfaction.

Communication Through the Good Times: Capitalization, Self-Construal, and Relationship Satisfaction

Similar desirable relationship outcomes exist for positive relational communication. A wealth of research has focused on negative relational processes such as conflict, problem solving, and criticism (e.g., Rusbult et al., 1991 ; Gottman, 1998 ; Johnson et al., 2005 ), while the positive relational processes have often been left to lie fallow. Recent work has finally stressed the advantages of the positive side of relationships (Gable et al., 2004 , 2006 ; Lambert et al., 2012 ; Pagani et al., 2020 ), providing a fresh positive psychology perspective of not only minimizing threat or lasting harm to satisfaction (i.e., conflict management) but also integrating relationship enhancement processes (i.e., positive communication, and responsiveness) (Ogolsky et al., 2017 ; Warren et al., 2017 ). In particular, the process of capitalization, which is a practice of communicating personal positive events to others (Langston, 1994 ; Gable et al., 2004 ), has begun to gain much attention and is a focus of this current study. This gap is noteworthy as past studies have established that individuals share more positive events with others daily, with an estimation of 60 to 80% more compared to negative events. Hence, showing that capitalization opportunities and positive events occur more often than negative events and conflicts in everyday life (Gable et al., 2004 ; Gable and Haidt, 2005 ; Gable and Reis, 2010 ). In fact, responses toward positive events were a better predictor for relationship well-being than responses toward negative events (Gable et al., 2006 ).

Happy events (e.g., a promotion, a great cup of coffee, and compliments from others) usually motivates social retelling of those positive circumstances (Peters et al., 2018 ). For example, when Camelia receives a promotion at work, she would be motivated to share this news with her partner Liam. Provided that the reaction of Liam to the good news of Camelia was responsive, the capitalization process can be contagious, benefiting both parties and would promote future capitalization attempts, positive responses, and lasting relationship well-being (Peters et al., 2018 ). Among the various ways of responding to positive events, Gable et al. ( 2004 ) adapted the accommodation model to four types of capitalization responses. Hence, constructive capitalization responses can either be active (showing interest and enthusiasm) or passive (understating the event), whereas destructive capitalization responses may be either active (criticizing and invalidating event) or passive (showing disinterest and ignoring the event) (Gable et al., 2004 , 2006 ). To provide more context, the first investigation of capitalization in dating couples found that only an active-constructive response of a partner had a positive correlation with relationship satisfaction while active-destructive, passive-destructive, and passive-constructive responses showed an opposite effect for relationship satisfaction (Gable et al., 2004 ). Other studies have also found an association between relationship satisfaction and enthusiastic responses to the triumphs of a partner (e.g., Logan and Cobb, 2013 , 2016 ; Woods et al., 2015 ), but are all skewed to the Western perspectives.

Of note, a favorable response in one culture may not look the same in another as cultural differences could facilitate or impede capitalization processes (Choi et al., 2019 ). Wang et al. ( 2010 ) documented that Asian-Americans utilized support and perceived support for positive events as less helpful than their European-American counterparts. This result may be due to East Asian cultures viewing humility as prosocial, whereas capitalization can be seen as an individual “showing off,” being boastful, and threatening harmony (Markus and Kitayama, 1991 ; Yamagishi, 2011 ; Choi et al., 2019 ). Nevertheless, considering that being understood and validated by other people is considered the quintessence of the interdependent self (Markus and Kitayama, 1994 ), supportive and constructive responses may still carry weight for East Asians (Choi et al., 2019 ). A less emotionally expressive response, such as a passive-constructive response, could allow people from a collective culture to capitalize and experience appropriate emotional support without being overzealous, which might make them feel uncomfortable (Taylor et al., 2007 ). Accordingly, research by Kim ( 2015 ) on cultural distinctions in capitalization responses between Asian-Americans (AAs) and European-Americans (EAs) revealed that there were no differences in InterSC and only marginal significant differences in IndSC between cultural groups. For a satisfying relationship, both cultural groups favored active-constructive responses the most, implying the global advantages of active-constructive responses. Moreover, AAs did not respond adversely to passive-constructive responses, presumably indicating that a passive-constructive response may not be a detrimental response for AAs. Currently, it is unclear if replicable findings will be seen for individuals who are in dating relationships in Malaysia. To our knowledge, there is no research identified examining capitalization and romantic relationships in Asia, but there was one research that utilized a Chinese translated capitalization scale within father-child relationships of college students in China (Guo et al., 2018 ). Guo et al. ( 2018 ) reported both active and passive responses of fathers were positively linked to the intrapersonal health and well-being of their children, whereas the reverse impact was found for the two destructive responses. Thus, based on prior empirical and theoretical work, it is fair to say that there could be possible differences between perceived favorable responses for capitalization processes in romantic relationships between the Western and Asian cultures.

Current Study

Taken together, these lines of studies suggest that relationship satisfaction is not governed by the simple occurrence of conflict or positive events in the lives of a couple but by the capability of the couple to communicate about those events effectively. As evident from prior literature, the communication processes of both accommodation and capitalization responses may vary across cultures. Each form of communication process provides an important piece to move closer to understanding the relationship satisfaction enigma. However, both accommodation and capitalization have been researched independently and dominated in Western countries, which creates a drawback in comprehending the full picture of relationship functioning in Asian countries. Correspondingly, self-construal is also seen to be a moderating influence on both accommodation and capitalization processes. To the best knowledge of the researchers, to date, there is no identified research investigating these variables simultaneously, and the only study found in peer-reviewed publications was by Gable et al. ( 2004 ). On the one hand, the researchers discovered that only responding in an active-constructive manner toward the capitalization attempts of a partner correlated positively with satisfaction, while the other three responses yielded opposite effects. On the other hand, Gable et al. ( 2004 ) uncovered that both active and passive constructive accommodation responses during conflicts were positively linked to satisfaction with good agreement to the initial findings of Rusbult et al. ( 1991 ). Thus, results suggest that these communicative behaviors may not be parallel to each other and may depend on the situational context.

However, Gable et al. ( 2004 ) did not examine any cultural aspects, and their results were weighted toward the Western perspective. Thus, this current study would be the first not merely in Malaysia but the overall literature to further deepen the results of Gable et al. ( 2004 ) on “good relationship behavior.” Herewith, this present study conducted both correlations and hierarchical analyses. At first, accommodation and capitalization responses were analyzed separately to examine how each response uniquely predicted satisfaction. Subsequently, both accommodation and capitalization were examined simultaneously in the regression model to ascertain which responses are better predictors of satisfaction. Using these methods would allow a better understanding of the unique effects of each accommodation and capitalization response on relationship satisfaction with the complements of culture. It is also the hope of this exploratory study to shed light on how the distinct culture of Malaysian young dating individuals influences their communication behaviors to augment thriving relationships, withal providing an Asian comparative data. Furthermore, most studies have researched on the self-evaluation of an individual to their own communication; though often, one is a very poor judge of one's own communicative behavior (Rusbult et al., 1991 ). Therefore, this present study would investigate how one perceives the accommodation and capitalization responses of their partner and how these perceptions relate to their overall relationship satisfaction.

With the limitations and dearth of literature, the present study aimed to bridge the gaps by exploring the relationship between the two communication processes, (1) accommodation and (2) capitalization, on relationship satisfaction in Malaysian young adults. This study also aimed to examine whether interdependent self-construal moderates and explains the differences in perceived communication behaviors, which in turn effects the level of relationship satisfaction. In broader terms, this research anticipated that active and passive constructive responses would positively predict satisfaction, whereas active and passive destructive responses would negatively predict satisfaction for both accommodation and capitalization processes. With greater depth, the following research questions and hypotheses are postulated:

  • Research Question 1
  • Hypothesis 1a (H1a) : Perceived active-constructive accommodation responses will positively predict relationship satisfaction.
  • Hypothesis 1b (H1b) : Perceived passive-constructive accommodation responses will positively predict relationship satisfaction.
  • Hypothesis 1c (H1c) : Perceived active-destructive accommodation responses will negatively predict relationship satisfaction.
  • Hypothesis 1d (H1d) : Perceived passive-destructive accommodation responses will negatively predict relationship satisfaction.
  • Hypothesis 1e (H1e) : Perceived active-constructive capitalization responses will positively predict relationship satisfaction.
  • Hypothesis 1f (H1f) : Perceived passive-constructive capitalization responses will positively predict relationship satisfaction.
  • Hypothesis 1g (H1g) : Perceived active-destructive capitalization responses will negatively predict relationship satisfaction.
  • Hypothesis 1h (H1h) : Perceived passive-destructive capitalization responses will negatively predict relationship satisfaction.
  • Research Question 2
  • Hypothesis 2a (H2a) : As an exploratory hypothesis, interdependent self-construal will moderate the relationship between the four perceived accommodation responses and relationship satisfaction.
  • Hypothesis 2b (H2b) : As an exploratory hypothesis, interdependent self-construal will moderate the relationship between the four perceived capitalization responses and relationship satisfaction.


Participants were 139 individuals (46 males, 93 females) recruited on a voluntary basis with online advertisements. A priori power analysis and F-test, linear multiple regression with a fixed model, and R 2 deviation from zero was calculated through the G * Power 3.1 software. The results demonstrated that the sample size was sufficient to detect a significant effect size with 80% power ( f 2 = 0.15, α = 0.05, two-tailed) (Faul et al., 2007 ). Eligibility criteria included the criteria for participants to be Malaysian, above 18 years old, fluent in English and in a romantic relationship for a minimum of 3 months. Initially, there were 179 participants, however, 40 participants were excluded as they did not meet the required criteria for the survey (e.g., minimum 3 months of relationship length) and possibly due to the length of the survey and lack of compensation and token of appreciation. Participants ranged from 18 to 30 years of age ( M = 23.15, SD = 2.42) and age of partners ranged from 18 to 35 years old ( M = 23.93, SD = 3.39). The average romantic relationship length of participants was 2.73 years ( SD = 2.34). Other demographic information of participants is summarized in Table 1 .

Participant demographics ( N = 139).

Subsequent to approval of the study from the Human Research Ethics Committee of the university (MUHREC, Project Number 10606), the study was advertised online through voluntary and snowballing, non-probability sampling methods from December 2017 to January 2018. Numerous organizations and online mediums such as forums, discussion groups, non-governmental organizations, and health and education professionals were approached to advertise the research widely and recruit participants to promote sample diversity. Efforts were also made to foster inclusivity in several manners, for instance, by recruiting participants of different genders, relationship lengths, sexualities, and ethnicities. Additionally, participants were recruited on a voluntary basis instead of providing compensation for taking part in the study to minimize biases.

Participants were given an explanatory statement comprising the aim of the research, confidentiality and the anonymity of information collected. The explanatory statement also stated the rights of participants to withdraw from the study at any time before submitting their responses anonymously. Participants who voluntarily agreed to participate with consent implied, completed the research survey online through the Qualtrics site of the university. The research survey encompassed demographic background, relationship satisfaction, capitalization, accommodation, and self-construal questions. The duration time to complete the survey was ~30 min. Data of each participant was then merged into one data file and analyzed using IBM SPSS Statistics 25.0 software.

Exploratory cross-sectional research was conducted as an observation of variables at a single point of time. There were:

  • Active-constructive accommodation
  • Passive-constructive accommodation
  • Active-destructive accommodation
  • Passive-destructive accommodation
  • Active-constructive capitalization
  • Passive-constructive capitalization
  • Active-destructive capitalization
  • Passive-destructive capitalization
  • Interdependent self-construal
  • Relationship satisfaction

Assessment Tools

Relationship satisfaction measure.

The Couples Satisfaction Index (CSI-16) has 16 items and measures the level of relationship satisfaction of an individual (Funk and Rogge, 2007 ). The CSI-16 has a variety of questions, all with a 5-point Likert-type scale (Funk and Rogge, 2007 ). The scores are calculated by tallying up the total points of the items, which can range between 0 and 81 (Funk and Rogge, 2007 ). Scores below 51.5 suggest distress in the relationship (Funk and Rogge, 2007 ). The CSI-16 showed high reliability with a Cronbach's alpha of 0.94 for both genders in European, Asian, and American cultures (Graham et al., 2011 ; Lee, 2013 ). It also showed strong convergent, construct validity, and greater power in recognizing different levels of satisfaction compared to other measures (Funk and Rogge, 2007 ). The Cronbach alpha for the overall scale in this present study was 0.95.

Capitalization Measure

The perceived responses to capitalization attempts (PRCA) scale consists of 12-items measuring the perceptions of the responses of a partner when shared with a positive event (Gable et al., 2004 ). The scale consists of three questions of each response type and are computed by tallying up each subscale, namely, active-constructive (3 items; e.g., “ My partner usually reacts to my good fortune enthusiastically .”), passive-constructive (3 items; e.g., “ My partner tries not to make a big deal out of it, but is happy for me .”), active-destructive (3 items; e.g., “ My partner often finds a problem with it .”), and passive-destructive (3 items; e.g., “ My partner doesn't pay much attention to me .”) responses (Gable et al., 2006 ). Participants rate each item using the line, “When I tell my partner about something good that has happened to me...”, using a 7-point scale from 1 ( not at all true ) to 7 ( very true ). PRCA demonstrated good reliability with men (α = 0.84) and women (α = 0.81) (Gable et al., 2006 ). Reliability analyses for this present study revealed an acceptable coefficient for the items devised to measure active-constructive (α = 0.61), passive-constructive (α = 0.65), active-destructive (α = 0.72), and passive destructive (α = 0.82), respectively.

Accommodation Measure

The accommodation scale is a 16-item measure that evaluates four perceived responses of a partner for each category: active-constructive (e.g., “ When I am rude to my partner, he/she tries to resolve the situation and improve conditions .”), passive-constructive (e.g., “ When I do something thoughtless, my partner patiently waits for things to improve .”), active-destructive (e.g., “ When I say something really mean, my partner threatens to leave me .”), and passive-destructive (e.g., “ When I do something thoughtless, my partner avoids dealing with the situation .”) to an individual's own adverse behavior (Rusbult et al., 1991 ). Items are scored on a 9-point Likert scale from 1 ( never does this ) to 9 ( constantly does this ). Total scores are calculated by totaling the four items of each subscale to gain the totals of each active-constructive, passive-constructive, active-destructive, and passive destructive responses (Gable et al., 2004 ). High reliability was shown with Cronbach's alpha (α = 0.83) (Crowley, 2006 ). Reliability for each item for this present study was also acceptable with active-constructive (α = 0.88), passive-constructive (α = 0.78), active-destructive (α = 0.73) and passive-destructive (α = 0.61), respectively.

Self-Construal Measure

The Singelis Self-Construal Scale (SCS) assesses the interdependent and independent self-construal of an individual (Singelis, 1994 ). The 30-item SCS has 15 interdependent and 15 independent items each. These 30 items are measured on a 7-point Likert scale from 1 ( strongly disagree ) to 7 ( strongly agree ). Responses on each subscale are averaged to obtain interdependent and independent scores separately with greater scores signifying greater self-construal (Hardin et al., 2004 ). A range of 0.60–0.73 Cronbach alpha reliabilities were found in Malaysia (Miramontes, 2011 ). Reliability coefficients in this present study were high for interdependent and independent self-construal with 0.83 and 0.76, respectively.

Data Analysis

All data collected were analyzed descriptively through SPSS. Data cleaning was performed to check for outliers and missing values. Hierarchical multiple regression and moderation were conducted following discussion with statistical consultants knowledgeable about cross-cultural social psychology research. The assumptions for hierarchical multiple regression and moderation were assessed. After preliminary correlations were conducted, hierarchical multiple regressions were run to examine how capitalization and accommodation responses explain the variances in the relationship satisfaction score. Lastly, moderation analyses were run to assess whether interdependent self-construal moderates the relationship between the capitalization and accommodation responses and relationship satisfaction.

Given the theoretical and exploratory nature of this research, formal sensitivity analyses were not conducted as there was limited comparative data and models to compare the results. In preliminary analyses, the researchers have explored the results by entering only significant accommodation and capitalization responses from the correlations to the hierarchical regression and found little change in the R 2 compared to the current findings with all eight responses in the model. These results may be due to the additional responses not indicating a substantial predictive value, in which the rationales have been explained in the discussion section. Additionally, the researchers have inspected the results by changing the order of the input stages for the hierarchical regression, and similar results were demonstrated.

Assumption tests were run prior to inferential analysis. Missing values analysis found missing data and these participants were omitted from further analysis. A 22.3% rate of non-participation was discovered due to participants not meeting the requirements of the research survey. Two univariate outliers were identified for passive-destructive capitalization based on the criteria of z-score ± 3.29 and were winsorized (Field, 2013 ). Normality analysis revealed that multiple variables violated normality; however, based on the central limit theorem, the sample size was deemed adequately large to assume normality (Field, 2013 ). Assumptions of multicollinearity and singularity were assumed to be met, established upon the criteria of Tolerance not lower than 2 and VIF not >10 (Field, 2013 ). Lastly, visual inspections of residual scatter plots showed that data were both linearly distributed and homoscedastic.

Table 2 presents the descriptive statistics of the full sample ( N = 139). Despite targeted efforts to include both genders, it is also important to note that this sample had a higher percentage of female to male participants (66.9–33.1%). Additionally, the cut-off score for relationship satisfaction is 51.5 whereby anything below this score suggests notable relationship dissatisfaction (Funk and Rogge, 2007 ). 73.4% of participants were above this cut-off score signifying that most participants in this sample are in relatively satisfied relationships.

Descriptive statistics of all main variables.

The Relationship Between Perceived Accommodation and Capitalization Responses on Relationship Satisfaction

Bivariate correlations were conducted for the accommodation and capitalization variables with relationship satisfaction, shown in Table 3 . The examination of correlation between perceived accommodative responses and relationship satisfaction showed that there was a positive correlation between Active-constructive accommodation responses and relationship satisfaction ( r = 0.39, p < 0.001). The Passive-constructive accommodation responses had a r = 0.14, p = 0.056. Both Active-destructive ( r = −0.36, p < 0.001) and Passive-destructive ( r = −0.40, p < 0.001) accommodation responses had a negative correlation with relationship satisfaction. Thus, in this preliminary analysis, out of the four accommodation responses, only three responses (active-constructive, active-destructive, and passive-destructive) appeared to have a significant association with satisfaction.

Correlations for accommodation and capitalization responses with relationship satisfaction.

Correlations for perceived capitalization responses and relationship satisfaction revealed that only two responses, Active-constructive and Passive-destructive capitalization responses indicated a significant link to satisfaction. Active-constructive responses ( r = 0.44, p < 0.001) and Passive-constructive responses ( r = 0.02, p = 0.429) had a positive correlation with relationship satisfaction. Both passive-destructive responses ( r = −0.39, p < 0.001) and active-destructive responses ( r = −0.13, p = 0.060) had an inverse association with relationship satisfaction. Moreover, correlations between accommodation and capitalization were assessed and revealed the strength of association ranging from 0.01 to 0.52.

Addressing research question and hypotheses 1, hierarchical multiple regression analyses were performed to further investigate the directionality of the eight accommodation and capitalization communicative responses and determine which of those communication variables uniquely contributed to the prediction of relationship satisfaction. At first, accommodation and capitalization responses were analyzed separately to examine how each response uniquely predicted satisfaction. Subsequently, both accommodation and capitalization were examined simultaneously in the regression model to ascertain which responses were better predictors of satisfaction. In order to accurately examine their unique influence of relationship satisfaction, demographic variables of age, gender, and relationship length which may have effects on relationship satisfaction were controlled by entering them first in stage one of all the hierarchical multiple regression analyses. Gender was held constant because the ratio of female to male participants was larger.

The first hierarchical regression executed was on the four accommodation responses as predictors and relationship satisfaction as the outcome variable (see Table 4 ). As aforementioned, in stage 1, gender, age, and relationship length were entered and did not contribute significantly to relationship satisfaction, F (3,127) = 1.67, p = 0.176, only accounting for a difference of 0–3.8% in the variability of relationship satisfaction. Next, Active-constructive accommodation, Passive-constructive accommodation, Active-destructive accommodation, and Passive-destructive accommodation were entered in stage 2, which suggested an increase in predictive capacity of relationship satisfaction by 26.3%, F (4,123) = 7.56, p < 0.001. A large effect size, Cohen's f 2 = 0.38 was demonstrated between the set of predictors in stage 1 and stage 2 (Cohen, 1988 ). Among the four accommodation responses, only two responses, Active-constructive and Passive-destructive accommodation, emerged as unique predictors of satisfaction, with Active-constructive accommodation [β = 0.34, 95% CI (0.19, 0.87), p < 0.05] recording a stronger relationship with satisfaction compared to Passive-destructive accommodation [β = −0.24, 95% CI (−0.87, −0.09), p < 0.05]. In contrast, Passive-constructive accommodation [β = −0.05, 95% CI (−0.42, 0.25), p = 0.617] and Active-destructive accommodation [β = −0.15, 95% CI (−0.65, 0.07), p = 0.118] revealed to have less predictive value toward relationship satisfaction.

Accommodation responses as predictors of relationship satisfaction.

The second hierarchical regression model explored the unique association of the four capitalization responses on relationship satisfaction (see Table 5 ). Similarly, age, gender, and relationship satisfaction were entered in stage 1 [ R 2 = 0.03, F (3,135) = 1.44, p = 0.234]. Introducing the Active-constructive capitalization, Passive-constructive capitalization, Active-destructive capitalization, and Passive-destructive capitalization responses to stage 2 explained an additional 24.3% of variability of relationship satisfaction, significantly increasing the predictive capacity of relationship satisfaction, F (4, 131) = 7.05, p < 0.001. A Cohen f 2 = 0.33 value was found, signifying a moderate effect size between the set of predictors in stage 1 and stage 2 (Cohen, 1988 ). Both constructive responses showed contributing value in predicting relationship satisfaction, with Active-constructive capitalization [β = 0.33, 95% CI (0.52, 1.65), p < 0.001] demonstrating a stronger relationship than Passive-constructive capitalization [β = 0.17, 95% CI (0.00, 0.92), p < 0.05]. For the two destructive responses, Active-destructive capitalization [β = −0.04, 95% CI (−0.66, 0.41), p = 0.648] displayed low predictive capacity for satisfaction, while Passive-destructive capitalization [β = −0.25, 95% CI (−1.42, −0.16), p < 0.05] indicated strong predictive value toward relationship satisfaction.

Capitalization responses as predictors of relationship satisfaction.

Independently, accommodation and capitalization demonstrated to contribute to relationship satisfaction. However, the next part of the analysis was to explore all eight accommodation and capitalization responses simultaneously. Analogous to the two previous regression models, gender, age, and relationship length were entered in stage 1 and appeared non-significant with R 2 = 0.3, F (3,127) = 1.67, p = 0.176. Introducing the four accommodation responses to stage 2 explained an additional 26.3% of variation in satisfaction, F (4,123) = 7.55, p < 0.001, and a large effect size of Cohen f 2 = 0.38 was found between stage 1 and stage 2 (Cohen, 1988 ). Finally, adding the four capitalization responses to the regression model explained an additional 5.6% of variation in satisfaction and this change in R 2 was also significant with F (4,119) = 6.01, p < 0.001. The effect size between the set of predictors of stage 2 and stage 3 was small, Cohen f 2 = 0.09 (Cohen, 1988 ). It can be seen in Table 6 that when all eight accommodation and capitalization responses were measured simultaneously as predictors of relationship satisfaction in stage 3, merely an active-constructive capitalization response was found as a strong incremental predictor to relationship satisfaction with β = 0.25, 95% CI (0.18, 1.4), p < 0.05. A marginal positive predictive value was found for the active-constructive accommodation β = 0.22, 95% CI (−0.00, 0.71), p = 0.054. The rest of the accommodation and capitalization responses were found to provide minimal contribution, suggesting less predictive value for satisfaction.

Accommodation and capitalization responses as predictors of relationship satisfaction.

The communication responses were entered in this order given that accommodation is a more well-known process as a contributor to relationship satisfaction than capitalization, which is a rather new concept in research. However, the researchers did extra analyses to confirm the results with changing the order of the stages and entering the capitalization responses in stage 2 and accommodation responses in stage 3 and found the same results where Active-constructive capitalization was revealed as the strongest predictor of relationship satisfaction, indicating that this response is the most important predictor of satisfaction.

The Moderating Effects of Self-Construal on the Relationship Between Perceived Accommodation and Capitalization Responses and Relationship Satisfaction

To test research questions and hypotheses 2, moderation analyses were performed. Firstly, moderation analyses of interdependent self-construal as a moderator for both accommodation and capitalization communicative responses on relationship satisfaction were conducted. As shown in Table 7 , the interaction effects between each of the accommodation responses and interdependent self-construal were Active-constructive accommodation [β = −0.06, 95% CI (−0.39, 0.27), t = −0.38, p = 0.704], Passive-constructive accommodation [β = 0.01, 95% CI (−0.33, 0.36), t = 0.08, p = 0.938], Active-destructive accommodation [β = 0.21, 95% CI (−0.21, 0.63), t = 1.00, p = 0.319], and Passive-destructive accommodation [β = 0.05, 95% CI (−0.39, 0.49), t = 0.24, p = 0.812]. These findings suggested that the relationships between accommodation and relationship satisfaction were not moderated by interdependent self-construal.

Moderation of interdependent self-construal for accommodation and capitalization reponses and relationship satisfaction.

Similar results were revealed for the capitalization responses. Active-constructive capitalization [β = 0.26, 95% CI (−0.41, 0.94), t = 0.77, p = 0.444], Passive-constructive capitalization [β = −0.04, 95% CI (−0.68, 0.61), t = −0.11, p = 0.912], Active-destructive capitalization [β = 0.49, 95% CI (−0.13, 1.11), t = 1.57, p = 0.119], and Passive-destructive capitalization [β = 0.49, 95% CI (−0.03, 1.10), t = 0.1.89, p = 0.62] responses showed that interdependent self-construal did not moderate and explain the relationship between these communication responses and relationship satisfaction.

Although not initially planned in the hypotheses, further exploratory moderation analyses were conducted to broaden the understanding of this current sample and results. Intriguingly, in contrast, independent self-construal appeared to moderate the relationship between active-destructive capitalization [β = 0.64, 95% CI (−0.04, 1.24), t = 2.12, p < 0.05] and passive-destructive capitalization [β = 0.71, 95% CI (−0.19, 1.29), t = 2.68, p < 0.05] responses with relationship satisfaction. The rest of the accommodation and capitalization responses on relationship satisfaction indicated no moderating effects by independent self-construal (see Table 8 ).

Moderation of independent self-construal for accommodation and capitalization reponses and relationship satisfaction.

Hence, the interaction effect of both perceived accommodation and capitalization responses with interdependent self-construal did not moderate and predict relationship satisfaction. The only interacting moderation effects found were between independent self-construal and Active-destructive capitalization and Passive-destructive capitalization responses, which were beyond the scope of this study. Nevertheless, the possibilities of these results will be considered in the discussion section.

Negative communicative behaviors in romantic relationships, such as accommodation in conflicts, have received ample attention in past studies. On the flip side, positive communicative behaviors such as capitalization exchanges toward positive events have been largely overlooked and have not received as much vigor as negative interactional research (Gable et al., 2004 , 2012 ; Smith and Reis, 2012 ). This current study proposed that it is essential to understand the contemporaneous associations of both negative (accommodation) and positive (capitalization) communicative behaviors to unearth the riddle in predicting positive relationship satisfaction. Prior work has highlighted that couple communication takes diverse forms germane to the cultural context whereupon it occurs and have argued that Western and Asian cultures differ in how they express and perceive beneficial communication behaviors (e.g., Wang et al., 2010 ; Williamson et al., 2012 ; Yum et al., 2015 ; Wang and Lau, 2018 ). However, positive psychology research studies around the world have been largely based on Caucasian samples and greater diversity is needed in the science of positive psychology (Rao and Donaldson, 2015 ). Since previous studies were dominated by a Western perspective, exploring both capitalization and accommodation processes may give us a better holistic insight into which communication behaviors are perceived as responsive and fruitful in promoting relationship satisfaction from an Asian viewpoint. In fact, no identified research examining accommodation and capitalization processes has been done in tandem within an Asian context, especially in Malaysia. Therefore, this present study examined the relationship between the two communication processes, (1) accommodation and (2) capitalization, on romantic relationship satisfaction in Malaysian young adults. This study also explored whether interdependent self-construal moderates and explains the differences in communication behaviors, which in turn affects the level of relationship satisfaction.

Do the Eight Types of Perceived Communication Behaviors in Terms of Accommodation (4 Types) and Capitalization (4 Types) Responses Predict Relationship Satisfaction?

The more well-known piece that literature has appraised in solving the conundrum of relationship satisfaction is accommodation in conflicts. This present study hypothesized that Active-constructive (H1a) and Passive-constructive (H1b) accommodation responses toward the transgressions of a partner in conflicts would positively predict relationship satisfaction, whilst Active-destructive (H1c) and Passive-destructive (H1d) responses would negatively predict relationship satisfaction. Findings revealed that responding in an Active-constructive manner such as discussing problems and altering problematic behavior during conflicts positively predicted relationship satisfaction, supporting H1a. These results align with research done by Rusbult et al. ( 1991 ) and Crowley ( 2006 ) who established that the willingness to accommodate to the misbehavior of a partner with Active-constructive responses boosts relationship functioning and satisfaction. This indicates that Active-constructive reciprocity will foster satisfaction as it directly engages one partner to be more aware of the maintenance efforts of the other partner in the relationship, which in turn rejuvenates closeness and perceived regard (Overall et al., 2010 ).

Regarding H1b, it was hypothesized that Passive-constructive accommodation responses during conflicts would positively predict relationship satisfaction; however, the findings did not support H1b. Rather than a significant positive prediction of relationship satisfaction, a slightly negative non-significant result emerged. It was forecasted in this current study that Asians would find forgiving and forgetting the bad behavior of a partner and hoping for things to improve (Passive-constructive) through conflictual circumstances just as beneficial as talking through issues (Active-constructive). This expectation was due to prior work establishing Malaysians and collectivist societies tend to use more indirect and less expressive communication to maintain harmony with others (e.g., Ting-Toomey, 1999 ; Kennedy, 2002 ; Oetzel and Ting-Toomey, 2003 ; Yum, 2004 ; Bakar et al., 2007 , 2014 ; Wang et al., 2010 ; Ma-Kellams and Blascovich, 2012 ). Previous research in Western societies has found unclear and inconsistent results regarding the Passive-constructive accommodation response, making it hard to decipher whether this response is threatening or securing relationship functioning. In their seminal work, Rusbult et al. ( 1991 ) and Gable et al. ( 2004 ) found the Passive-constructive accommodation response desirable, but later studies by Overall et al. ( 2010 ) found the opposite effect. Although not significant, the findings of this current study seem to be more toward the discovery of Overall et al. ( 2010 ) because a Passive-constructive accommodation response may be less salient than an Active-constructive response and lead an individual to feel ignored and unappreciated, which could diminish relationship satisfaction. However, further research should continue to investigate the differences of past work as the results in this current study leaned toward a possible negative direction but were indicative of non-significance.

Furthermore, this study found both active and passive destructive accommodation responses detrimental to the relationship satisfaction of an individual. A Passive-destructive response was unmasked as the stronger negative response in predicting satisfaction within this sample in line with H1d. On the contrary, an Active-destructive response appeared to show lower predictive capacity in reducing relationship satisfaction. The rationales of the strength of Passive-destructive accommodation responses are deferred toward the end of the discussion after the capitalization processes are considered as similar results were replicated for capitalization. Despite this, findings still leaned toward the expected direction of both H1c and H1d, exhibiting near to typical findings of the two destructive responses. These results are congruent with past studies that found active and passive destructive reciprocity to the bad behavior of a partner are unaccommodating and lead to dissatisfaction (Rusbult et al., 1991 ; Crowley, 2006 ). These findings also denote that not inhibiting destructive impulses would further exacerbate issues, hinder movement toward resolving issues, and lead to distressing relationships (Rusbult et al., 1991 ; Overall et al., 2010 ). In short, Active-constructive accommodation responses during conflicts seem to be the most favorable response and allowed dating partners to feel understood, cared for, and validated, which enriched relationship satisfaction. Conversely, Active-destructive, and Passive-destructive accommodation responses seemed unrewarding for dating relationships of Malaysian young adults. The Passive-constructive accommodation responses were the only accommodation results that were not supportive of the hypothesis of this research.

Another complementary yet an understudied communication process in deciphering the relationship satisfaction riddle is capitalization on positive events. Mirroring the hypotheses for accommodation, this study expected that Active-constructive (H1e) and Passive-constructive (H1f) responses to capitalization attempts would positively predict relationship satisfaction whereas Active-destructive (H1g) and Passive-destructive (H1h) responses would negatively predict relationship satisfaction. Consistent with H1e and H1f, results uncovered that providing both enthusiastic support (Active-constructive) and acknowledgment, but an understated support (Passive-constructive) toward the positive events of the partner predicted relationship satisfaction. However, Active-constructiveness had a rather more robust response for satisfying relationships. The findings suggested that the Passive-constructive response stood in contrast to previous research in Western societies as only an Active-constructive response conveyed responsiveness and was associated with higher personal and relationship well-being from the Western lens (Gable et al., 2004 , 2006 ; Pagani et al., 2020 ). Gable et al. ( 2006 ) noted that an Active-constructive response solely highlights the triumphs of the partner and communicates personal significance of the positive event to the discloser. On the other hand, a Passive-constructive response does not convey the same message, which reduces relationship well-being (Gable et al., 2006 ). Albeit the passive-constructive capitalization responses in this current Malaysian study yielded borderline significance in positively predicting satisfaction, the preliminary correlation demonstrated that this capitalization response had a weak but non-significant relationship to satisfaction. Hence, the results of the passive-constructive capitalization responses should be approached with caution.

Having said that, the results in this current study still appeared to encapsulate the aspect that a Passive-constructive capitalization response such as providing a warm smile and just expressing “ That's nice dear ” toward good news of a partner also tends to be supportive and positive from an Asian perspective. Thus, this finding appears to dovetail nicely with the results of Guo et al. ( 2018 ), the only research found in Asia using the perceived capitalization attempts scale of Gable et al. ( 2004 ) thus far. They studied familial relationships and demonstrated that both constructive responses of fathers were advantageous for the intrapersonal health and well-being of their children. Therefore, this present research seemed to capture some differences between preferable responses toward personal triumphs of dating couples in Western and Asian countries, echoing the notion that a less overzealous response could still be appropriate and desirable in collectivist cultures (Taylor et al., 2007 ). According to Choi et al. ( 2019 ), Asians also have greater worries about possible repercussions of disclosing personal positive events as it has higher stakes in threatening relational harmony and negative reputations because sharing good news can seem boastful. However, as aforementioned, the findings for the passive-constructive response in this current study narrowly achieved significance. Thus, future research should broaden the sample size and examine other cultural aspects (i.e., harmony values) to better capture the cultural differences for the capitalization process.

Regarding the destructive capitalization reactions, a Passive-destructive response, which is showing disinterest and changing the topic of discussion indicated the strongest predictive value in lowering relationship satisfaction, in tandem with H1h. The same, albeit non-significant trend, was displayed for the active-destructive response (i.e., criticizing and invalidating the partner's good news) leaning toward the anticipated direction of H1g. It can thus be suggested that both destructive responses undermine relationship health as they reject the attempt to develop self-confidence, bids for connection, and engagement of the discloser, which leads to dampening of positive feelings about the event and the relationship (Gable et al., 2004 ). Repeated destructive responses could also deter the discloser from making capitalization attempts in the future, which may impact the relationship well-being drastically in the long run (Peters et al., 2018 ).

Furthermore, examining both accommodation and capitalization processes simultaneously provided striking but not surprising results as the most impactful positive response to satisfaction was the Active-constructive capitalization response. This indicates that perceiving that a partner validates the strengths and accomplishments of the discloser in an enthusiastic and encouraging fashion has benefits above and beyond other responses and the accommodation process. These results conform with prior findings that documented support toward positive events was a better predictor of relationship quality than discussions about other circumstances such as adverse events (i.e., Gable et al., 2006 , 2012 ). Thus, as Gable et al. ( 2006 ) asserted, “ To put it colloquially, they seem to offer a lot more bang for the buck ” (p. 914). Gable et al. ( 2006 ) also found some preliminary evidence that positive event discussions had a greater predictive capacity of couples breaking up at a later point in time. Pertaining to the accommodation process, it can be fairly said that the Active-constructive reaction was also the best response for enriching relationship satisfaction but not as strong as the Active-constructive capitalization response, which seems to be the most salubrious response for dating relationships in Malaysia.

Summary and Rationale of Results

Considering the results as a whole, the notion that Asians perceive Active-constructive responses as unbeneficial, uncomfortable, and distressing (Taylor et al., 2007 ; Wang et al., 2010 ) is not vouched by this study as this response was found as the most ameliorative reaction for flourishing dating relationships in Malaysia. Therefore, this result supports the universal advantage of Active-constructive responses in both, accommodation, and capitalization processes for relationship maintenance and enhancement.

However, when comparing the two communication processes, there were varying outcomes for the passive-constructive response. This type of communicative behavior seems to have contradicting findings across the literature, and its impact is still not completely clear. While responding in a passive-constructive fashion during capitalization processes was suggestive of beneficial relationship outcomes, accommodating in this manner during conflicts seemed to trend toward being unfruitful for relationship satisfaction in this present research. Even so, due care should be exercised with interpreting these findings. Although the results leaned toward these directions, some results did not appear significant. Be that as it may, it could be argued that the capitalization and accommodation processes are not mutually exclusive, and an effective response depends on the situational context, especially when it comes to Passive-constructive responses. Analogously, a passive-constructive capitalization response to good news of a partner emerged to predict satisfaction positively in this Malaysian sample. In contrast, prior researchers have found that Westerners do not benefit from this type of communication behavior (Gable et al., 2004 , 2006 ; Lambert et al., 2012 ; Pagani et al., 2020 ). In light of this, to some extent, this present research unmasked a potential difference in the consequences of the perceived passive-constructive response between Asian and Western countries. On a similar note, scholars have also suggested that perceived responses usually involve a “reality component” (Reis et al., 2004 ), where researchers should also consider other relationship “realities” such as the expectations of the partner, need for approval, and reasons for disengagement toward the discloser (Gable et al., 2004 ). Thus, future research should closely inspect these individual differences and motivation to provide a constructive response to understand the complexity of effective communicative behaviors further.

Moreover, concurring with prior research, destructive responses in accommodation and capitalization communication processes were found harmful, regardless of culture. However, one noticeable difference is that the Passive-destructive response in both accommodation and capitalization processes had a greater predictive magnitude in the deterioration of relationship satisfaction when the two processes were examined independently. Active-destructive responses were in the anticipated negative direction but were revealed to be non-significant in predicting relationship satisfaction. On the one hand, it could be that partners of the participants in this study interact in a more vague and evasive destructive way, laying more truth to Asians communicating passively (Guo et al., 2018 ). On the other hand, the results may indicate that Passive-destructive responses are more detrimental to the receiver than Active-destructive responses (Gottman and Krokoff, 1989 ). These findings may be because Passive-destructive responses inhibit the ability of a couple to resolve conflicts by “bottling up” emotions, prolonging problems, and causing petty disagreements to escalate out of control, which may cause more long-term problems (Gottman and Krokoff, 1989 ; Gottman and Levenson, 1992 ).

Another possible explanation for these results is the stage and status of the relationship of participants in this current study. 73.4% of the sample were in relatively satisfied and happy relationships. Hence, it could be assumed that partners are not reacting in an Active-destructive way, such as showing anger and hostility in conflicts or demeaning and criticizing good news frequently for them to be unsatisfied in their relationships. Besides that, the unintended self-selected bias cannot be ruled out and should be taken into consideration in future research. The results may differ if there was a proportionated balance of participants in the sample who were in satisfying and dissatisfying relationships, which upcoming research needs to obtain and explore.

This research also consists of only dating individuals with an average of 2 years of relationship length. These participants may still be in the “honeymoon” stage of their relationship where trust and intimacy may still be developing, during which they utilize distinctive nature of behaviors such as being more Passive-destructive and more forgiving than couples who have been married for a longer period (Williams, 2012 ). Passive-destructive responses are possibly more apparent, unnerving, and threatening to premarital or dating couples because partners showing disregard and disinterest may make them feel that their partners are not committed. This relates to a relatively frequent phenomenon in modern dating and a new term called “ghosting,” which shares an overlap with the Passive-destructive response as if an individual “ghosts” another person, they withdraw and avoid the partner entirely (LeFebvre et al., 2019 ). In other words, when one partner ghosts the other, the immediate consequence is simply an indirect and ambiguous lack of communication (LeFebvre, 2017 ). As this seems to be a common phenomenon in the current dating atmosphere, it might be another reason why this way of communication had a greater prevalence and strength in declining satisfaction of romantic relationships for this sample. Future research could compare the different phases of relationships and communication behaviors between dating and married couples to understand these results more comprehensively. Despite these rationales, this study suggests a recognition that passive-destructiveness is an unfavorable act to Malaysian dating relationships, maybe more so than active-destructiveness. Further illustrations of the cultural facets, in terms of self-construal and communication are discussed in the subsequent section.

To What Extend Does Interdependent Self-Construal Moderate the Relationship Between Perceived Capitalization and Accommodation Communication Behaviors on Relationship Satisfaction?

As noted earlier, the present study anticipated Malaysia to be a collectivist country with individuals generally having a dominant interdependent self-construal based on prior studies and was treated as such in hypotheses 2 (Hardin et al., 2004 ; Amir, 2009 ; Ting and Ying, 2013 ). Nevertheless, these current findings did not bear the resemblance of previous discoveries as the interdependence self-construal seemingly did not moderate and explain the differences in both accommodation and capitalization communication behaviors with relationship satisfaction. Thus, these results did not endorse H2a and H2b, suggesting other important factors are at play.

Consequently, given the equivocal findings, further exploratory analyses were conducted though not tested in the hypotheses of this study. It was discovered that independent self-construal instead seemed to moderate the relationships between both perceived active and passive destructive capitalization responses and relationship satisfaction. However, no other significant results were found for accommodation responses. Hence, self-construal appeared to affect the expectations and preferences of perceived responsiveness of sharing good news, just not in the expected direction for Malaysians in this study. The sample in this study also obtained relatively higher mean scores for interdependent and independent self-construal compared to Asian samples in America. These results concur with the findings of Yum ( 2004 ) that other self-construal types exist and may explain behavioral variations with greater consistency than the bipolar interdependent-independent self-construal model. One of which is the bicultural self-construal, that is individuals who are high in both interdependent and independent self-construal and are products of modernization and multicultural societies (Kim et al., 1996 ; Yum, 2004 ). Given that Malaysia is a melting pot of races, ethnicities, and cultures with unique historical influences (Nagaraj et al., 2015 ; Park, 2015 ; The Malaysian Administrative Modernisation Management Planning Unit, 2016 ), one could speculate that some of the participants in this study could be bicultural. Prior work has asserted that bicultural individuals have rather complex and adaptable identities and are less culturally typical than other self-construal types (Kim et al., 1996 ; Yum, 2004 ). They are more flexible and capable of adapting to interactional demands by responding effectively not only to protect their own needs but also the needs of their partner better than other self-construal types. However, this is beyond the scope of this research; thus, future studies could investigate other types of self-construal and whether they moderate the relationship between accommodation and capitalization processes and satisfaction.

Another plausible explanation would be the “modernization hypothesis,” which infers that the behavior of an individual in personal relationships is influenced by the degree of industrialization, westernization, and democratization of the country (Goodwin, 1999 ). It is also imperative to emphasize that Malaysia was formerly colonized by Western powers such as Britain and, inherently, the Malaysian regime adopted some of the British laws and educational practices which would influence Malaysia's culture (Aziz, 2009 ; Lee and Low, 2014 ). Therefore, Malaysians may be affected by social change, modern capitalism and globalization and hold values that are assumed with moving toward individualism, which could explain why the moderating effects of independent self-construal instead of interdependent self-construal were shown in this current study (Goodwin, 1999 ; Park, 2015 ). Further, the behavior of an individual could also be influenced by regional subcultures. This current study presumed the national culture of Malaysians to be collectivistic and are governed by interdependent self-construal. However, according to Schmitz ( 2012 ), regional sublevels within a country influences the difference in cultural characteristics of various states. This may explain the inconsistency in results of the interdependent and independent self-construals affecting the communication behaviors as participants originated from different states in Malaysia.

Moreover, other scholars have argued that individualist-collectivist stereotypes are becoming meaningless due to other confounding variables such as degree of industrialization, education, and occupation, especially for the younger generations (Kagitçibaşi, 1996 ; Goodwin, 1999 ; Matsumoto, 2002 ; Park, 2015 ). The sample in this present study represents people of the younger generation who live in urban areas and have relatively high education and economic status. According to Fung ( 2013 ), older individuals have a higher tendency to internalize their cultural values compared to younger individuals. Thus, since the participants in this study are of relatively younger ages, there may be a possibility that they have yet to internalize their cultural values (Ho, 2021 ), explaining the disparities of the interdependent-independent self-construal types. Additionally, Yum et al. ( 2015 ) have discovered that although countries are geographically close and in Asia, it does not necessarily mean they have similar values. For instance, Singaporeans were found to adopt traditional and preindustrial beliefs. Conversely, Malaysians reported to hold greater self-expressive and liberal post-industrial beliefs similar to people living in the United States (Yum et al., 2015 ). Hence, further studies would need to scrutinize the impact of other cultural aspects (e.g., harmony values, and self-expressive values) and widen the range of ages, education, and economic status of participants to truly capture the cultural evolution and communication processes in this modern era.

Research Implications

Taken together, this current research has highlighted some important implications of romantic relationship communication behaviors, particularly in the realm of dating relationships. This work is the first step toward enhancing our understanding of the accommodation and capitalization processes by looking through an Asian cultural lens. In the overall literature and Malaysian context, there are no identified peer-reviewed studies found investigating the accommodation and capitalization processes and relationship satisfaction simultaneously. Integrating the 2 everyday life communication processes into research provides a better holistic view of how romantic relationships unfold. An active and constructive response was captured as the most salubrious response through capitalization and accommodation processes from a Malaysian standpoint. Prominently, an Active-constructive capitalization response bore the strongest influence on relationship satisfaction above and beyond other responses. A passive and constructive response was suggestive of a positive direction for disclosures of good news but not during conflicts. In contrast, destructive responses in both instances displayed a negative pattern which could steer couples in a downward spiral, irrespective of culture.

The findings of this pioneering study would be a noteworthy addition to literature while contributing to positive psychology theory. This research investigated not only which communication behaviors were beneficial but for whom they are effective for. This study would provide a good comparative data of an Asian country since most studies are conducted and dominated by Western cultures and were subdue to low population and ecological validity as well as pitfalls of research methods. Furthermore, the results could also be a guideline in counseling practices to enhance the “good relationship behavior” and relationship satisfaction of couples by training and cultivating better communication behaviors (Gable et al., 2004 ), tailored to the preferences and culture of an individual. This knowledge and understanding of human interactional behaviors could be beneficial in designing pre-marital and marriage interventions in Malaysia and other Asian countries. Possible target therapeutic interventions and positive education are fostering constructive communication behaviors, not only to protect relationships with better conflict management but to also enrich romantic relationships by capitalizing on the positive aspects of their lives. Additionally, the findings could serve as a means to educate and create awareness among the general population about good communication practices of which would hope to reduce divorce rates, strengthen relationships and families, and improve the well-being of the society at large, ultimately building flourishing lives.

Caveats and Future Directions

While this study has made novel contributions to the romantic relationship science literature and goes beyond previous researchers in important ways, future studies should interpret the findings with caution as there were limitations notwithstanding. Firstly, although most of the results were in the expected directions, some of the results appeared non-significant, possibly due to various factors beyond the scope of this research. This study also used self-report data which may induce social-desirability bias; for instance, over-reporting good behavior and higher relationship satisfaction and underreporting undesirable behaviors to be viewed favorably. Moreover, this study focused on the perception of an individual to the response of the partner without directly observing the interaction or investigating how both the discloser and responder feel about the same reactions. Future studies should compare perspectives of both partners and use triangulating methods such as observation in natural settings, in-depth field studies, open-ended surveys, and interviews. Granting all this, it should be noted that responsiveness not only mirrors actual behavior but also the eye of the beholder; therefore, it should be approached with prudence (Reis et al., 2004 ).

Additionally, women are more attuned to behaviors of partners in daily interactions (Overall et al., 2010 ). The sample was predominantly female, with 66.9% of females and 33.1% males, making it difficult to accurately compare gender differences. Therefore, future research should assess the complexities of accommodation and capitalization processes in more depth, while examining gender differences. Furthermore, the sample consisted of participants who were relatively young and in dating relationships, of which 73.4% were in satisfying relationships. These participants may also still be in the “honeymoon” relationship phase, during which they utilize and intently focus on different nature of behaviors (Williams, 2012 ). Responses and perceptions in accommodation and capitalization processes may reveal different patterns in an alternative milieu of long-term, long-distance, distressed, marital, and clinical populations. Future research is recommended to obtain a larger sample size, especially accounting for non-completion of online surveys, to gain a better understanding and generalizability of results.

Lastly, this research was susceptible to ecological fallacy because it assumed that all individuals from a specific culture behave similarly (Freedman, 1999 ). Thus, some Malaysians may hold bicultural self-construal or more independent than interdependent self-construal. These findings suggest opportunities for future research to investigate other types of self-construal as well as various values that may impact communicative behaviors, namely self-expressive and harmony values. Observing other aspects could valuably aid in capturing the cultural evolution and communication processes in this modern age.

Conclusively, our need to connect romantically can be ever so fulfilling and enrich our life experiences but can also be arduous and complicated. The contemporaneous associations of both accommodation and capitalization communication processes aids in understanding the complexities of romantic flourishing relationships. This current research has unearthed that attaining relationship satisfaction lies at the heart of responding constructively in romantic relationships as it shows the partner cares and appreciates us. The advantages of active-constructive responses in both relationship processes were more salient and consistent compared to passive-constructive responses. Conversely, in the destructive paradigm, passive-destructive responses emerged as the most unfavorable act in dating relationships in comparison with other destructive responses. This current research has also found that interdependent self-construal did not moderate the communication behaviors. However, captivatingly, unexpected individual and cultural variations were discovered. In the light of these findings, this area of research is essential and further work is necessary to identify additional mediators and effects of these constructs. Regardless, this present research has endowed society one step closer to solving the riddle of achieving relationship satisfaction, and ultimately flourishing romantic relationships. Herein, this study can also serve as a backbone to the knowledge of accommodation and capitalization processes of psychologists and society in Asia and positive psychology literature. Thus, truly strengthening the view of Virginia Satir that “ Communication is to relationships what breath is to life ” (Loeschen, 2017 , p. 89).

Data Availability Statement

Ethics statement.

The studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee (MUHREC, Project Number 10606). The participants provided their written informed consent to participate in this study.

Author Contributions

All authors contributed to the study and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.


We would like to express our deep sense of thanks and sincere gratitude to our participants, who were instrumental in the completion of this research. We would also wish to extend our heartfelt appreciation to our family and friends who supported us throughout this research process. This research could not have been completed without all of them.

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research paper about interpersonal communication

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Competencies and Education Program Objectives

The medical education programs at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine are based on nine core competencies. The following competencies and Educational Program Objectives describe the knowledge, skills and behaviors a student must demonstrate to qualify for an MD degree.


Demonstrates commitment to high standards of ethical, respectful, compassionate, reliable and responsible behaviors in all settings, and recognizes and addresses lapses in professional behavior.

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Demonstrates effective listening, written and oral communication skills with patients, peers, faculty and other health care professionals in the classroom, research and patient care settings.

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Astrophysics > Solar and Stellar Astrophysics

Title: long-term evolution of solar activity and prediction of the following solar cycles.

Abstract: Solar activities have a great impact on modern high-tech systems, such as human aerospace, satellite communication and navigation, deep space exploration, and related scientific research. Therefore, studying the long - term evolution trend of solar activity and accurately predicting the future solar cycles is highly anticipated. Based on wavelet transform and empirical function fitting of the longest recorded data of the annual average relative sunspot number (ASN) series of 323 years to date, this work decisively verified the existence of the solar century cycles and confirmed that its length is about 104.0 years, and the magnitude has a slightly increasing trend on the time scale of several hundreds of years. Based on this long-term evolutionary trend, we predicted solar cycle 25 and 26 by using phase similar prediction methods. As for the solar cycle 25, its maximum ASN will be about $146.7\pm 33.40$, obviously stronger than solar cycle 24. The peak year will occur approximately in 2024, and the period is about $11\pm 1$ years. As for the solar cycle 26, it will start around 2030, reach the maximum between 2035 and 2036, with maximum ASN of about $133.0\pm 3.200$, and the period is about 10 years.

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