The perceived impact of online versus offline flirting on romantic relationships

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Psychology


Advisor: Lee J. Dixon


Behaviors exhibited while online differ radically from behaviors exhibited while offline (Suler, 2004a). Research suggests that this difference in behaviors results from online disinhibition (OD) while engaging in computer-mediated communication (Suler, 2004a). An example of the effects of OD can be seen when a person flirts outside of his or her dyadic relationship while online when he or she would not normally in person. Flirting can cause harm to a romantic relationship when it is directed towards someone outside of the romantic relationship (Glass, 2003). Due to the immense use of the internet among college students, and the negative impact that extradyadic flirting can have on a romantic relationship, the first goal of this research was to provide a basis of information on the amount of online flirting, how online flirting occurs, and the impact of online flirting among college-age students. The second goal of this study is to assess participants' perception of how detrimental the impact of online flirting would be on their romantic relationship compared to offline flirting. Malt (2007) found that there is a general view in society that flirting online is less detrimental to a romantic relationship than flirting offline. Given this finding, along with the possibility that participants are aware of OD, I predicted that online flirting would be perceived as less detrimental to a romantic relationship than offline flirting as a result of an informal understanding of OD from personal internet use. The third goal of this study was to understand the perceived impact of public versus private extradyadic online flirting on a romantic relationship. Pittman (1990) found that infidelity that occurs in private has more of a detrimental impact on a romantic relationship than infidelity that occurs in public. Therefore, I predicted that private online flirting, such as through a Facebook message, would be perceived as more detrimental to a relationship than public online flirting, such as through a Facebook wall post. My findings showed that college students are actively using the internet throughout their day in many different capacities. However, I found that perceived harm to relationships is not contingent on flirting type or situation. In addition, my hypothesis that private flirting would be perceived as more detrimental to a relationship was not supported. Despite these hypotheses not being supported, this study was able to gather valuable information about the habits of college students while using the internet.


Flirting, Online social networks, Dating (Social customs), Interpersonal relations, College students Psychology, Psychology, Sociology, Social Psychology, Technology, Internet, flirting, online, romantic, relationships, disinhibition, ODE, online disinhibition effect, romance, internet behaviors, internet flirting, online flirting, online behaviors, social behaviors, online dating, internet dating, communication

Rights Statement

Copyright 2014, author