Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2018

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

High, Andrew C

First Committee Member

Mikucki-Enyart, Sylvia L

Second Committee Member

Afifi, Tamara D

Third Committee Member

McLaren, Rachel M

Fourth Committee Member

Young, Rachel


Seeking support is an inherently risky communicative activity, especially for individuals seeking support for a concealable stigmatized identity. Online channels may provide enhanced opportunities for individuals to seek help for concealable stigmatized identities, and their perceptions of the affordances of these channels may shape their cognitions and behaviors relevant to seeking support. Whereas prior research has investigated the likelihood that people will seek support or their motivations for seeking support, this dissertation extends existing research to focus attention on variation in the dimensions of support-seeking messages. Examining the dimensions of support-seeking messages about concealable stigmatized identities can illuminate meaningful differences in these messages and provide a more nuanced understanding of how perceptions of channels and costs of seeking support shape those messages.

The current study examines how variations in communicators' perceptions of the anonymity and visibility of channels in which they seek support influence their perceptions of the costs associated with seeking support, and subsequently the dimensions of their support-seeking messages. Specifically, the project draws upon the literatures on perceived affordances, supportive communication, and disclosure to examine how perceptions of anonymity and visibility, alone and in combination, shape the features of messages people employ to seek support for concealable stigmatized identities. In particular, this project examines how perceived affordances correspond with variation in the breadth, depth, duration, frequency, and emotional content of support-seeking messages. Additionally, this project investigates how perceived affordances impact support seekers' perceptions of the costs of seeking support in a channel, which in turn may impact the dimensions of support-seeking messages.

The study employed an experimental design to test how perceptions of anonymity and visibility shape people's perceptions of the costs of seeking support in that channel and, in turn, the dimensions of their support-seeking messages. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions that corresponded to variations in their perceptions of anonymity and visibility. They were then asked to imagine that they were seeking support for their concealable stigmatized identity in their assigned channel and asked to compose the support-seeking message they would send in that channel. After composing the message, participants assessed the dimensions of their message, their perceptions of the costs of seeking support in their assigned channel, and their perceptions of the affordances of that channel.

Results suggest that when communicators perceived that they were more anonymous, they sought support for a greater breadth of topics, and when they perceived their messages were more visible, they composed shorter support-seeking messages. Additionally, the interaction of these two perceived affordances produced a significant effect on frequency of seeking support in the assigned channel, such that the frequency of seeking support was greatest when participants perceived high levels of both anonymity and visibility and lowest when participants perceived low levels of anonymity and high levels of visibility. Analyses also revealed that participants' perceptions of the intrapersonal costs of seeking support explained why perceptions of anonymity were negatively associated with the duration of support-seeking messages. As participants' perceptions of anonymity increased, the length of their messages decreased because of their perceptions of the intrapersonal costs of seeking support. Results extend the literatures on seeking support and perceived affordances of communication channels.


x, 169 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 103-116).


Copyright © 2018 Emily Michelle Buehler