Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Internet relationships and motivation

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Internet relationships and motivation:
Why do people use the internet for relationships?
Figure 1: Love statue in Montreal

Overview[edit | edit source]

Reeve (2009) defines motivation as the energy, intensity and direction behind the behaviour of a individual. The motivation to use the internet has become increasingly popular to find all types of relationships. One in ten singles are using the internet or mobile applications to find partners (Madden & Lenhart, 2006). Specific websites have been designed to target certain relationships including heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, casual sex, and fetish/fantasy relationships. As a Western society, we have accepted relationships initiated from the internet. Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project Spring Tracking Survey found 29% of Americans know someone who met a spouse or other long-term partner through online dating, up from just 15% in 2005. Internet dating is a faster, easier, and more effective way to meet people with similar wants, needs, and specific interests. This book chapter will also look at the negative aspects that deter individuals from using online dating websites. This book chapter with explore several psychological theories, such as Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Uncertainty reduction theory and Interpersonal deception theory to help explain the motivation to initiate, develop, and maintain relationships in the cyberspace.

Theories to be online, to stay online and to be offline[edit | edit source]

Why be online?[edit | edit source]

Using Maslow's theory of motivation - 'Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs',an individual seeks to fulfill specific needs, such as biological and physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization needs. Once the need is satisfied then an individual will pursue a new need. For example, once a basic physiological need, such as sex, is satisfied the individual moves his/her focus to safety and so on. Figure 2, illustrates Maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid. Table 1 explains the five motivational stages of Maslow's hierarchy of needs including and explanation of when a need is not met.

Tay & Diener (2011) studied the importance of human needs using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory. Over a five year period from 2005, 60,865 participants in 123 countries were surveyed about the importance of their needs. The results support universally human needs appear to exist regardless if basic needs are fulfilled. Diener explains human needs work independently as they are all important.

Martin Seligman explains happiness is key to one's well-being and life satisfaction through strong dependent networks of relationships; family, friends, coworkers, and partners. Seligman explains, when we are alone, we lose perspective on the world and must depend on relationships to remain grounded.

Table 1. Maslow's hierarchy of needs - "five stages"

Stage Need If not met
1 Biological and physiological need Physiological needs are thought to be the most important for human survival and should be met first. If not met, the human body cannot function properly and will ultimately fail.
2 Safety needs The need for safety; personal and financial, is not met disorders and trauma may develop consequently inhibiting physiological needs.
3 Love and belonging needs Human need for interpersonal relationships can impact the individual's ability to form and maintain all emotionally significant relationships. Peer pressure may overcome the physiological and safety needs.
4 Esteem needs Humans desire to be accepted and valued by others however must accept the 'self'. Low self-esteem or self-worth will obstruct with physiological need
5 Self-Actualization needs An individual has met their ultimate potential. All other stages have been met beyond a satisfactory level and have accomplish everything that individual can.

Research has shown that individuals under the age of 40 years are more inclined to satisfy needs (Bartoli & Clark, 2006) in Stages 1 and 2 - physiological and safety. Individual are seeking partners to develop love and belonging. At the other end of the scale, individuals over the age of 40 years (Coupland, 2000) are more focused on Stages 4 and 5 – esteem and self-actualisation. As the needs at earlier stages have already been met (Coupland, 2000), individuals are seeking to satisfy nurturing relationship and activities to greater their self-actualisation - final "stage" of Maslow's hierarchy. William Glasser (1998) has emphasised the most important need is love and belonging, as closeness and connectedness with the people we care about is a prerequisite for satisfying all of the needs.

Many websites are tailored for different needs, such as eHarmony and Tinder, for different audience with the similar needs. Figure 5, demonstrates bondage. targets the more extreme fetishes and dominate and submissive relationships. Figure 3 illustrates some of the many website used around the world for different purposes. Websites allows an individual to seek like-minded partners more accurately (Epstein, 2007), easily, and time efficiently (Henry-Waring & Barraket, 2008).

Figure 5: Rope Bondage A woman in a karada with a crotch rope - a fetish one can seek online

Why stay online?[edit | edit source]

In 2008, 20 million people accessed online dating website and mobile applications per month, generating over $650 million (Online dating magazine media center,2008). Whitty & Carr (2006) has predicted that online dating population will only increase. Research shows greater number of people becoming single parents, higher emphasises on careers at a younger age, including regular relocations, and technology becoming so advanced (Whitty & Carr, 2006), alternatives methods to meeting people has become easier. However, there is still a significant degree of ambiguity when joining dating websites.

Gibbs et al. (2011) found that individuals who proactively revealed private information, thoughts and feelings were likely to receive a great number of positive responses, potentially leading to future relationships. Kramer (1999) explains that individuals have different tolerance levels when it comes to uncertainty; the greater the tolerance, the less information an individual will seek. Berger and Calabrese's (1975) Uncertainty reduction theory refers to knowing information about another individual decreases uncertainty of that individual (Berger & Calabrese,1975). This increases communication in an online relationship. This is supported by Carr and Walther’s (2014) non-verbal cues. Individual's online are encourages to interact with non-verbal cues such as self-disclosure and checklists, to have a more positive outcome with online dating. Disclosure of personal information plays an important part in relationship development, especially romantically (Greene et al., 2006). Gaining personal information of others helps individuals collect information about prospective partners and make forecasts about potential relationships (Derlega et al., 2008). Online dating participants who engage in greater uncertainty reduction behavior will have less uncertainty about potential dating partners and will thus open up more in their interactions with them (Gibbs et al., 2011).

Dating websites allow members to personalise their profiles and allow members to browse other profiles before making contact. As this is an anonymous environment, there is little to no judgement involved when turning down an individual, as there would if being done it person. However, the main focus is for members to interact and continue communication from an online environment to offline, face-to-face setting. Many online members have reported to have met partners, made friendships, and create support networks for hobbies such as sports.

Why stay offline?[edit | edit source]

Buller and Burgoon’s (1999) Interpersonal deception theory (IDT) refers to deliberate deception to the receiver. For example misleading information about oneself ie marital status, age, height, weight, sexuality, and/or pictures . Those online daters who did use deception were motivated to attract members of the opposite sex and project a positive self-image. Caplan (2003) found insecure, lonely and depressed individuals are more likely to take part in online interactions. Resulting in a negative association with their online use.

Unfortunately, many online users have reported being deceived while using online dating website. Meeting with members who had clearly created a profile deliberately to mislead readers ie not disclosing marital status, gender or uploading old or false pictures. A reality-based television series, ‘Catfish’ reveals truths and lies of online dating from thousands of stories from all over the US.

A person intentionally befriending victims, by charm, sympathy or playing a victim themselves (Martellozzo, 2012)is known as a grommer. Online dating sites have facilitated opportunities for groomers to conduct cyber-criminal activities anonymously (Martellozzo, 2012). Online grooming may involve emotional methodology such as emotional manipulation in order to gain the trust. The Australian Federal Police warn, the objective is focused on sexual exploitation, financial gains and technological hacking to personal information. Sexual exploitation may involve direct or indirect contact with the victim. There have been two recent cases in Australia of online initiated meetings; one female victim was murdered, another gang raped however no official charges have been placed.

Case Study[edit | edit source]

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The book chapter has covered three theories: Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Uncertainty reduction theory and Interpersonal deception theory to help explain the motivation to initiate, develop, and maintain relationships in the cyberspace.

There is limited research to support any one theory behind the motivation to online relationships. Right at our fingertips, the world wide web opens the opportunity to meet people with similar needs and wants. Despite the deception that does occur frequently online, participants still believe that the online dating environment is capable of developing successful romantic relationships (Wagner, 2008). However, to improve one’s life, take precaution when online.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Who is most likely...

1 40% more likely to email the opposite sex;


2 to lie most about: Weight, Physical Build, Age ;


3 to lie most about; Age, Height, Income;


4 70% are more interested in healthy behaviours when they are in relationships.;


Is online dating for you?

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Bartoli, A. M. & Clark, M. D. (2006). The dating game: Similarities and differences in dating scripts among college students. Sexuality & Culture, 10(4), 54-80.

Berger, C. R. & Calabrese, R. J. (1975). Some Exploration in Initial Interaction and Beyond: Toward a Developmental Theory of Communication. Human Communication Research, 1, 99–112.

Caplan,S.E. (2003). Preference for Online Social Interaction: A Theory of Problematic Internet Use and Psychosocial Well-Being.Communication Research,30( 6), 625-648.

Carr, C. T., & Walther, J. B. (2014). Increasing attribution certainty via social media: Learning about others one bit at a time. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication

Coupland, J. (2000). Past the “perfect kind of age”? Styling selves and relationships in over - 50s dating advertisements. Journal of Communication, 9-30.

Derlega, V. J., Winstead, B. A., & Greene, K. (2008). Self-disclosure and starting a close relationship. In S. Sprecher, A. Wenzel, & J. Harvey (Eds.), Handbook of relationship beginnings:153-174. New York: Psychology Press.

Epstein, R. (2007). The truth about online dating. Scientific American Mind, 18(1), 8-35.

Gibbs, J.,L., Ellison, N.,B, & Lai, C. (2011) First Comes Love, Then Comes Google: An Investigation of Uncertainty Reduction Strategies and Self-Disclosure in Online Dating. 38:1;70 Michigan State University

Glasser, W. (1998). Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom. The William Glasser Institute

Greene, K., Derlega, V. J., & Mathews, A. (2006). Self-disclosure in personal relationships. In A. Vangelisti & D. Perlman (Eds.), Cambridge handbook of personal relationships: 409-427. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Henry-Waring, M. & Barraket, J. (2008). Dating & intimacy in the 21stcentury: The use of online dating sites in Australia. International Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society, 6(1), 14-33.

Kramer, M.,W. (1999). Motivation To Reduce Uncertainty: A Reconceptualization of Uncertainty Reduction Theory. Management communication quarterly, 13:2;305.

Madden, M. & Lenhart, A. (2006) Online Dating. Pew Research Internet Project. Princeton Survey Research International.

Martellozzo, E.(2012) Online Child Sexual Abuse: Grooming, Policing and Child Protection in a Multi-Media World, Abingdon, Routledge.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-96.

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper and Row.

McLeod, S. A. (2007). Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved from

Online dating magazine media center: Abbreviated online dating facts and stats. (2008). Online dating magazine. Retrieved November 7, 2008 from

Tay, L., & Diener, E. (2011). Needs and subjective well-being around the world. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101;2:354.

Wagner, L. (2008) Disharmony and Matchless: Interpersonal Deception Theory in Online Dating. Masters Theses;210.

Whitty, M. T. & Carr, A. N. (2006). Cyberspace romance: The psychology of online relationships. New York, Palgrave MacMillan.

External links[edit | edit source]