In an upcoming article in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, Lee and Jeong explore behavioral antecedents of social mentoring networks, which are defined as informal mentoring that occurs primarily through an social networking website (like Facebook). They identify the Theory of Planned Behavior, which posits that human behavior is the result of reasoned consideration of advantages and disadvantages to various activities, as the primary explanatory framework for involvement in social mentoring. They also proposed two new antecedents: attitudes toward online social network mentoring and willingness to share personal information in such a setting. They found general support for the Theory of Planned Behavior and their two new antecedents for predicting behavioral intentions, but not actual behavior.
To test this, the researchers asked 969 current users of social mentoring networks to complete two surveys, two weeks apart. In the first survey, researchers collected information about proposed behavioral antecedents (those proposed by the Theory of Planned Behavior (attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control) plus their own proposed additions (attitudes towards social mentoring networks and willingness to disclose personal information on such a network). In the second survey, they captured a self-report of social network behavioral intentions related to mentoring (e.g. “I intend to participate in SMN at least once per day in the next 2 weeks”) as well as actual behavior. 469 (48%) responded to the first survey, whereas 414 (43%) responded to the second. The researchers then excluded 38 “insincere responses” – this was never explained further. The final sample was thus 376.
Although confirmatory factor analysis would have been more appropriate, an exploratory factor analysis was first used to confirm the factor structure of the six scales used. This was successful. Each scale used exhibited acceptable internal consistency reliability (α > .70). Behavioral intentions were regressed hierarchically on the Theory of Planned Behavior variables in Step 1, adding the two new variables in Step 2. 30% of variance in behavioral intentions was explained with the theory of planned behavior, whereas the two new variables explained an additional 6% beyond this. This provides some support for these new variables as contributing factors in behavioral intentions for online mentoring.
Perceived behavioral control did not predict intentions in either model, which was surprising. However, this may be because it is correlated with other variables described by the Theory of Planned Behavior – a correlation matrix was not reported, so there is no way to know.
The researchers also replicated their analyses using behaviors, but found no interesting relationships or hierarchical prediction after controlling for intentions. This implies that all of these behavioral antecedents affect behavior through the mediating effect on behavioral intentions. Unfortunately, the researchers did not actually test this directly (for example, with a structural equations model).
Overall, this article suggests that the Theory of Planned Behavior applies in the online social mentoring context – no surprises here. Attitudes towards social mentoring also appear to be an important component. But I think the most interesting part of this is the willingness to disclose angle – if people are unwilling to share information about themselves on these sites, they seem less likely to participate in them generally. And if that’s true, I suspect they are less likely to benefit. In that sense, online social network-based mentoring may only be useful at a two-way street – with both the mentor and mentee sharing freely.
However, it’s also possible that a “third variable” is causing both – for example, overall less motivated people are less likely to both report behavioral intentions and have poorer attitudes towards mentoring in general. Future research should compare reactions and intentions regarding both in-person and online programs simultaneously to identify any meaningful differences in how people approach the two.Footnotes: