However, bonding, as measured by both self-report and affiliation cues, differed significantly across conditions, with the greatest bonding during in-person interaction, followed by video chat, audio chat, and IM in that order.Compared with other participants, those who used video chat more frequently reported greater bonding with friends through video chat in our study.While research has established that digital communication can enhance existing friendships over the long-term (e.g., Valkenburg & Peter, 2007, 2009), a continuing concern among some is that youth are less “connected” than they were in the past or that increasing digital communication contributes to stunted socioemotional or empathic growth (Small & Vorgan, 2008; Turkle, 2012).

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For strangers meeting for the first time, digital communication has been shown to enhance the intimacy and frequency of self-disclosure (Antheunis, Valkenburg, & Peter, 2007; Tidwell & Walther, 2002), and strangers meeting in text-based environments show higher affinity for one another than strangers meeting one another face-to-face (Antheunis et al., 2012, Bargh et al., 2002).

These results seem at first to fly in the face of media richness theory (Daft & Lengel, 1986), which proposes that the number of cues and channels available for communication relates directly to the exchange of richer information, as well as social presence theory (Short, Williams, & Christie, 1986), which suggests that these “richer” media allow for greater warmth and affection.

Interlocutors furthermore may experience the online disinhibition effect (Suler, 2004), whereby the nature of text-based communication itself contributes to feelings of intimacy and connectedness.

The above evidence from the media studies literature might suggest that when young adults engage in digital communication, they can, with time, achieve the same level of connectedness as in-person communication.

In the field of communication and media studies, on the other hand, a rich literature spanning from the middle of the 20th century to the present has experimentally compared in-person and computer-mediated communication (CMC).

However, it has been primarily concerned with the establishment of new relationships, rather than communication between existing friends. Drawing on the experimental traditions of CMC research, the present study aimed to directly compare digital and in-person communication between pairs of close, emerging-adult friends to ascertain potential differences in ability to foster bonding.

Bonding in each condition was measured through both self-report and affiliation cues (i.e., nonverbal behaviors associated with the emotional experience of bonding).

Participants reported feeling connected in all conditions.

We compared feelings of emotional connectedness as they occurred in person and through digital communication among pairs of close friends in emerging adulthood.