Criticize, analyze, and compare the following articles in relation to people observing the interactions of others, and possibly produce jealousy. hyper personal and hyper perception models of communication. (600 words)

Carpenter & Spottswood. JoCTEC 2021 4(2), pp. 58-81

DOI: 10.51548/joctec-2021-010



JoCTEC: Journal of Communication Technology (ISSN: 2694-3883)

Extending the Hyperpersonal Model to

Observing Others: The Hyperperception


Christopher J. Carpentera and Erin L. Spottswoodb

aWestern Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois, USA; bPortland State University,

Portland, WA, USA

Correspondence: [email protected]


Much of our Social Network Site (SNS) and associated mobile application use

involves observing and interpreting other people’s online presentations and

interactions. This paper proposes an extension of the hyperpersonal model

(Walther, 1996), called the hyperperception model, which can be used to

explain and predict the potential psychological and relational effects that

result from observing other people interact on SNSs and mobile apps. In this

new model the observer of other people’s online interactions is the focus

rather than the original hyperpersonal’s focus on the dyad. Hyperperception

effects occur when an observer perceives higher intensity in others’ SNS

interactions than those observed perceive. Following the hyperpersonal model,

this extension identifies channel, sender, receiver, and feedback loop

components that encourage hyperperceptions of others’ relationship by

observers on SNSs. Applications to a variety of interpersonal phenomena are


Keywords: social networking sites, social media applications, hyperpersonal model, interpersonal relationships, loneliness, friendships, romantic


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Published by the Communication Technology Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

JoCTEC: Journal of Communication Technology

Carpenter & Spottswood. JoCTEC 2021 4(2), pp. 58-81



Many people split their online time between interacting with people

directly and observing other people’s interactions (Leiner et al.,

2018) at least partially because communication technologies such as

Social Network Sites (SNSs) and their associated mobile

applications make other people’s interaction more accessible,

persistent (Ellison & Vitak, 2015), and associable (Fox & McEwan,

2017; Rice et al., 2017) than older direct messaging applications or

chat rooms did in the past. Thus, observation and even rumination

over other people’s SNS interactions is now possible and a popular

way to use these technologies. The purpose of this paper is to

present and explicate the hyperperception model, a model that

makes predictions about how observing others’ interact on SNSs can

cause inaccurate perceptions of the interactions being appraised and

also about the observed interaction partners’ relationships.

A hyperperception occurs when an observer perceives more

intensity between interaction partners the observer sees online than

the interaction partners themselves perceive. For this model,

“intensity” refers to a class of relational variables including intimacy,

closeness, similarity, tie strength, emotional involvement, and trust.

Although people make misattributions about the intensity of others’

relationships offline as well, the purpose of this model is to identify

when such misattributions are more or less likely to occur in online

environments. The same cognitive appraisals and misattributions

may occur offline, but our focus is on how and when they can occur

online. The model indicates four key components of observing others

in the SNS environment that can increase the likelihood of

hyperperception. The model focuses on the perceptions of an

observer, the channel the observer uses to make their appraisal, an

observed sender who the observer is motivated to observe, and one

or more observed receivers who interact with the observed sender in

online environments in which the observer may see the interactions.

This model extends the classic hyperpersonal model (Walther, 1996)

but switches focus from the perceptions of the interaction partners

themselves to the perceptions of an observer of a pair of interaction

partners. This new model is meant to complement the existing

model, and capture phenomena where observing other people

interact online can lead to a variety of offline interpersonal effects.

It is important that scholars attempt to develop models and theories

that can be used to help explain and predict some of the effects of

SNS observation given these technologies’ prevalence

internationally. The hyperperception model proposed in this paper

seeks to explain some of those effects by unifying some of the past

phenomenologically similar but often theoretically ungrounded

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research. In addition, the new model could be used to predict when,

how, and why SNS observations of others’ interactions can impact a

user’s psychological well-being as well as their personal

relationships as a consequence of inaccurate impressions of others’

relational intensity. Watching those we are close to interact with

others on SNSs may have profound psychological and interpersonal

effects such as loneliness (Frison & Eggermont, 2017), jealousy (Utz

et al., 2015), and other relational problems (Fox, 2016). This model

can contribute to understanding some of the reasons such effects


First, this paper will summarize the classic hyperpersonal model

followed by an explication of the proposed extension: the

hyperperception model. This paper will then suggest a few empirical

applications, identify boundary conditions, and conclude with the

hope that others may find the model useful for making unique

predictions about SNS use.

The Hyperpersonal Model

To understand the hyperperception model we must first revisit its

robust predecessor: the hyperpersonal model. The hyperpersonal

model (Walther, 1996) argues there are four components of online

communication that can create conditions under which

hyperpersonal relationships can develop, i.e. a particularly intense

online-only relationship. The first component focuses on the channel.

In the original description of the model, Walther (1996) described

how interacting via CMC 1) constrains the number of nonverbal cues

that are typically available during face-to-face (FtF) interaction as

well as 2) enable interaction partners more time to reflect, compose,

send, and interpret each other’s messages. So long as users

perceive that they can take advantage of these aspects of a

communication technology, they may present, interpret, and

communicate in ways that can lead to the development of a

hyperpersonal relationship between interaction partners.

Another important component of the channel is the social norms

users attempt to abide by when interacting with others via that

channel. Walther (1992; 1996) highlights how users must be

motivated to develop social relationships via CMC before engaging

in potentially hyperpersonal interactions with other users on that

channel. This motivation is likely influenced by the social norms

users associate with the channel they are using. A person will likely

be less motivated to use a channel for interpersonal interaction if they

think other users would perceive such disclosures as strange (e.g.,

LinkedIn, Plaxo). Given that motivation precedes hyperpersonal

processes (Walther, 2007), and motivation to engage in

interpersonal interaction depends on social norms (Burgoon, 1993),

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it follows that social norms should affect whether or not a user

perceives a channel is a good place to develop a (“hyper”)personal

relationship with another user of that channel.

The second component of the original hyperpersonal model focuses

on senders who take advantage of CMC channel affordances when

interacting with another person or people on that channel. The

original model focuses on channels that typically had mostly verbal

communication features (e.g., email, electronic bulletin boards, etc.).

As such, senders in these channels could be especially selective

about how they presented themselves to the receivers of their

messages because textual or verbal information is more “malleable”

and “subject to self-censorship” than nonverbal information (Walther,

1996, p. 20). SNSs allow senders to craft messages that include a

greater mix of verbal and nonverbal information. However, such

information is still somewhat more malleable than what is typical of

FtF interaction (Bazarova, 2012; Dumas et al., 2017; Hogan, 2010;

Qiu et al., 2012; Walther, 2007; Walther et al., 2015). When a sender

selectively self-presents because they are motivated to make the

best impression possible upon a receiver in hopes doing so will help

them cultivate a close relationship with the receiver, a hyperpersonal

relationship may develop between the dyad.

In order for hyperpersonal effects to take place, it is not enough for

senders to take advantage of the channel to selectively self-present;

the receiver component indicates that the receiver must make over-

attributions about the sender according to what the sender has

selectively presented on that channel. These over-attributions are

the third component of the hyperpersonal model (Walther, 1996). For

over-attributions to take place, receivers need to focus on the

sender’s disclosures that appeal to them and pay less attention to

disclosures that are less appealing or relevant to them (Bridges,

2012). In this way, the receiver paints an image of the sender in their

mind that is especially attractive to them. It is important to highlight

that whether or not the receiver makes over-attributions depends on

their own motivations as well as their perceptions of the channel

(Jiang et al., 2011). If a receiver perceives that the sender’s

messages or posts are directed at them, they may make over-

attributions that not only make the sender seem especially attractive

or interesting, but also encourages the receiver to feel that they

should selectively-self present in ways they perceive the sender

would appreciate.

Our interpretation of the hyperpersonal model is that these first three

parts specify the necessary conditions for a hyperpersonal

relationship. The fourth component of the model indicates how these

processes can build over time to enhance the basic perceptions that

JoCTEC: Journal of Communication Technology

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allow a hyperpersonal relationship to develop. In particular, if the

receiver responds to the sender’s selective self-presentation with

messages that are similar in tone, affect, intimacy, and topic, it is

possible that a feedback loop, the fourth component of the

hyperpersonal model, will start where the sender and receiver

exchange messages that confirm each other’s positive, perhaps

even idealized perceptions of their interactions as well as their

relationship. In this cycle of behavioral confirmation, each person is

increasingly expecting higher quality behavior and more positive

cues from the other. Each then responds to those expectations to

produce more positive behavior. And thus, CMC provides users with

the potential to forge hyperpersonal connections.

The Hyperperception Model

The four key components of the hyperpersonal model will be used to

structure the hyperperception model’s explanation of when and how

observers of others’ interactions on SNSs sometimes perceive those

interactions as more intense than those observed would report. The

hyperperception model parallels the key aspects of the

hyperpersonal model, but switches emphasis from sender-receiver

dynamics to the psychological and relational aspects of the observer

of two or more interpersonally relevant interaction partners. We

chose to make this model an extension of the hyperpersonal model

because we believe the perceptual processes that make a

relationship feel particularly intense online (a hyperpersonal

relationship) are similar to the processes that make a relationship

observed online appear particularly intense.

In the hyperperception model, the person who the observer is

motivated to observe is labeled the observed sender to indicate that

the observer is especially motivated to observe one SNS user’s

interactions. It is the sender’s interpretation of the observed

interactions that takes precedence in determining if hyperperception

has taken place because the observer is most interested in the extent

to which the observed sender believes the observed relationship is

intense. And, similar to the traditional distinction between sender and

receiver, there may be multiple important observed receivers for

whom the observer believes the sender is tailoring their messages.

Additionally, the observer is to other people sometimes a sender and

to others a receiver. But the model seeks to simplify the situation into

the observer, observed sender, observed receiver(s) roles to permit

theorizing about hyperperception by the observer.

It is important to note here that although we are using the terms

observed sender and observed receiver to maintain consistency with

the hyperpersonal model, similarly to that model, this model

recognizes that the distinction between observed sender and

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observed receiver is artificial. The distinction is adopted to allow

consistent terminology rather than to endorse a static model of

communication. Communication is ongoing such that multiple parties

are usually in a process of sending and receiving messages.

Channel Component

Just as the original hyperpersonal focused on aspects of CMC that

allowed for the development of hyperpersonal relationships (Walther,

1996), the channel component of the hyperperception model focuses

on aspects of the channel that allow observation of others’

interactions. The first key component of the hyperperception model

is that the channel must make at least some people’s interactions

accessible, persistent, and associable. These three aspects of the

channel are typically referred to as affordances. Affordances are a

multifaceted construct, but for this paper, affordances are defined as

what a person thinks they can do as well as what they think they

should do with communication technology based on their own needs

and wants, what they think the channel is for, and how they perceive

others use the same channel (Ellison & Vitak, 2015). Accessibility,

persistence, and association are all affordances often attributed to

SNS channels (Fox & McEwan, 2017; Rice et al., 2017). The

following definitions are specific to how they apply to the

hyperperception model. First, accessibility is the perception that one

can easily receive and review others’ messages or posts on SNSs.

Second, persistence is how long a message, post, or conversation

remains accessible and visible on a SNS. Third, association is the

perception that a post, reaction, comment, etc. is linkable or

traceable to a particular persona or identity (Rice et al., 2017). Given

that many SNSs make user’s posts and interactions associable to

corporeal entities with warrantable personas, observers can see and

access their partners’, friends’, and family members’ posts and

interactions so long as they persist on these technologies. As such,

channel affordances such as accessibility, persistence and

association can enable observational or surveillance behavior which

in turn affords the observer the ability to develop impressions of

others’ interactions and relationships.

The channel component builds off of research examining

observational phenomena that occurs on SNSs (Fox & Tokunaga,

2015; Marwick, 2012; Steinfeld, Ellison, & Lampe, 2008; Tokunaga,

2011; 2016). Work from these related lines of inquiry suggest that

part of the attraction of SNSs is their capacity to help people access

associable people’s behavior, interactions, and relationships as they

are posted and remain persistent on these channels (Fox et al.,

2014). For example, Joinson (2008) found that one of the main

reasons why people were drawn to the SNS Facebook was so that

they could engage in “virtual people watching” (p. 1034). Marwick’s

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(2012) interviews with SNS users also imply that people use these

channels to check-in on people they know and people they formerly

had close relationships with. SNSs allow observation of others’

interactions and many people take advantage of the affordance to

observe them.

Another key aspect of the channel that encourages hyperperception

are the norms encouraging posting “positive” content. Many people

who use SNSs seem to perceive that they should try to mostly post

about interesting topics, happy emotions, celebratory events, and

flattering pictures (Reinecke & Trepte, 2014; Spottswood & Hancock,

2016; Utz, 2015; Waterloo et al., 2018; Zhao et al., 2008). This is

known as the “positivity bias,” the perception that people should post

positive content and refrain from posting negative content on their

SNS profiles or accounts (Utz, 2015). As such, interactions the

observer sees between people on an SNS are likely to be peppered

with affirming or agreeable language, emoticons/emojis, and other

cues that imply that the interaction partners like each other. The more

interaction partners interact within such norms on an SNS, the more

an interested observer will view them discussing similar types of

topics and conclude they have a lot in common. This type of

interaction would suggest to the observer that the people they are

observing sometimes delve deep into each other’s interests when

they interact on SNSs, suggesting that they are developing or have

developed an especially close or intimate relationship. Moreover, if

the interaction partners have more observable interactions about a

variety of different topics where they both adhere to politeness and

positive posting norms, the observer might begin to perceive that the

observed pair seem to like a lot of the same things and as such must

like each other as well. Breadth and depth of topics discussed

between interaction partners is associated with interpersonal

intimacy (Altman & Taylor, 1973). As such, the positivity bias may

lead interaction partners to interact in ways that suggest they are

interpersonally close on SNSs even though they are just adhering to

the posting norms they attribute to these platforms. If an observer is

more focused on the people interacting versus the norms they

attribute to an SNS, they may perceive the interactions they observe

are indicative of relational closeness even though those they are

observing would not report that they are close with each other.

Observed Sender Component

The second key component of the hyperperception model indicates

that hyperperception effects are more likely if the observer is a)

especially motivated to observe the interactions of a particular

person on the SNS (observed sender) and b) also perceives that said

observed sender is selectively self-presenting to one or more specific

people using the same SNS. This dual aspect of the second

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component pulls from traditional interpersonal literature as well as

the claims made by the hyperpersonal model regarding sender’s

strategic use of a channel’s features to selectively self-present

(Walther, 1996).

There are a variety of potential motives for observing others’

interactions in SNS, which then in turn motivates observation of the

observed receivers they interact with as well. In general, people are

often interested in knowing about the strength of other people’s

relationships (Dillard, 1987; Rusbult et al., 2000). Moreover, people

in close relationships tend to compare the strength of their close

relationships against the strength of their close ties’ relationships

with other people (Guerrero & Andersen, 1998; Knobloch, Solomon,

& Cruz, 2001). This appraisal phenomena not only occurs offline but

online as well (Bevan, 2017), perhaps because of the affordances

that make others’ interactions accessible, associable, and persistent.

In the SNS context, research demonstrates that people are

motivated to observe their current romantic partners in SNSs when

they feel low satisfaction (Tokunaga, 2016) or when they have less

power in the relationship (Samp & Palevitz, 2014). They also observe

old interactions between their romantic partners and their partners’

ex-partners (Frampton & Fox, 2018). There is also evidence people

are motivated to observe their own ex-partners on SNSs (Tong,

2013). In a non-romantic context, people observe others on SNSs

just to reduce their uncertainty about those people (Antheunis et al.,

2010). Of course, people vary in the extent to which they are so

motivated to carefully observe others online but the greater that

motivation, the greater the likelihood of hyperperception effects. The

motives for observing may vary, but the hyperperception model

indicates that when such a motive exists, hyperperception becomes

more likely.

Hyperperception effects are also more likely when the observer

perceives that the observed sender is intentionally and positively

interacting with one or more particular other users of the SNS (the

observed receiver).When the observer perceives that the observed

sender is intentionally using an SNS to publicly (and perhaps also

privately) interact with another person, the observer may try to

access the observed sender’s interactions with that particular other

person and then compare their relationship to the observed sender

against their perceptions of the relationship between the observed

sender and the other person. For example, imagine an observed

sender posts a flattering post about themselves on Facebook. Many

people “like” it, a few people leave positive comments. Then the

observed sender “likes” and leaves replies of gratitude in response

to one of the comments. The commenter (who may become the

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observed receiver) replies affectionately, and thus begins a chain of

public interactions between the observed sender and commenter.

In situations where observers have a relational connection with one

of the members of the observed pair (e.g., a friend, family member,

romantic partner etc.), observers may begin to wonder how much the

person they are connected to (the observed sender) is interested in

the other less well known SNS user (the observed receiver). If the

observer has doubts about their own relationship with the observed

sender, they may begin to compare themselves to the observed

receiver. If the observer begins to make unfavorable comparisons

between themselves and the observed receiver, and worry that the

observed sender is justified in being drawn to the receiver, they may

start to worry that the observed sender is pursuing or developing a

relationship with the observed receiver. According to Festinger’s

(1954) social comparison theory, people sometimes try to determine

their value relative to another person according to what they deem is

socially or culturally attractive and appropriate. Frampton and Fox

(2018) noted that although self-presentations on SNSs may not be

targeted at a particular observer, that observer might still use others’

positive self-presentations to make unflattering social comparisons

to themselves.

Observed Receiver Component

The third component focuses on how well the observer knows the

observed receiver and is able to contextualize the observed

receiver’s SNS posts, especially the observed receiver’s interactions

with the observed sender. In the original hyperpersonal model, the

receiver had to over-attribute the sender’s self-presentation and

thereby perceive other positive traits because the receiver could not

gather additional information face-to-face (Walther, 1996). In the

hyperperception model, the observer makes over-attributions

concerning the intensity of the observed pair’s relationship because

the observer cannot observe them offline or access other

contextualizing information. Although such misattributions can occur

offline, the point here is that the substantially lower amount of

contextualizing information available in the SNS environment make

them substantially more likely. Having less, little, or no personal or

social history with the observed receiver of the observed sender’s

SNS reactions, tags, and comments may hinder the observer’s ability

to contextualize the interactions between the observed pair. If the

observer knew that the observed receiver was just as friendly with

others on SNSs besides the observed sender, the observer may not

perceive as much relational intensity between the observed pair.

This pattern may also hold true for additional observed receivers,

what is key to a hyperperception effect is the inability for the observer

to be able to contextualize the observed receiver(s) interactions with

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the observed sender (i.e., the person the observer is motivated to


One key cause for the observer’s inability to contextualize the

relationship between the observed sender and the observed receiver

is that the observer is constrained to a SNS channel for observing

their interactions. This constraint is important for several reasons.

First there are substantially fewer nonverbal cues in this channel to

provide evidence that the observed pair’s interactions, while friendly,

are not indicative of an intense relationship. Without the nonverbal

immediacy cues such as proximity and positive facial expressions

that would be available to the observer who saw that pair of people

interacting offline (Andersen, Andersen, & Jensen, 1979), the

observer must rely on what are mostly verbal cues and a few

nonverbal cues (pictorial, graphic, chronemic, etc.) available in the

SNS environment. As will be seen below, these cues may appear

more positive than they might offline. In some cases, the positivity

expressed o

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