Emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok:
The role of extroverted personality and visual anonymity
Tianyu Li 12512443 Master’s Thesis
Graduate School of Communication
Master’s Program Communication Science: Entertainment Communication Supervisor: Rhianne Hoek
Word count: 7259 June 20, 2021
This study aimed to investigate emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok, a social media platform with increasing popularity yet received little attention from academia. The first goal of this study was to examine how extroverted personality is related to self-disclosure, and to what extent social presence moderates this relationship. The second goal was to investigate how visual anonymity correlates with self-disclosure, and whether private self-awareness can explain the relationship. To validate the hypotheses, we conducted a cross-sectional survey with 173 respondents (36.42% male, 63.01% female, Mage = 22.12, SDage = 1.99). Results showed that extroverted people disclose themselves more on TikTok. While a high level of perceived social presence makes extroverted people disclose themselves more, it inhibits introverted people from engaging in self-disclosure. This finding shows a boundary condition for the social enhancement theory: extroverted people will exploit the Internet to develop their social relationships when they perceive a high level of social presence. Furthermore, results suggested that there is no direct relationship between visual anonymity and self- disclosure. However, the two variables correlate indirectly through private self-awareness.
This finding enriches the understanding of the role anonymity plays in computer-mediated communication.
Keywords: Self-disclosure, TikTok, extroversion, social presence, visual anonymity, self- awareness
The current pandemic witnessed the phenomenal growth of TikTok. With over 800 million users globally, it has become the world’s fastest-growing social media platform and the most downloaded app in 2020 (Iqbal, 2020). Among all the users of TikTok, 69.4 % percent are aged 19–35 years old (QuestMobile, 2019). Thus, emerging adults have become the dominant users of this platform. Compared with other social media platforms, TikTok is featured with abundant true-to-life, somewhat “goofy” content (Meng & Leung, 2021). The frequently shown bedroom setting and other relatable contents make TikTok a place to reveal people’s true selves (Kennedy, 2020). Since it is well-observed that TikTok is suitable for self- disclosure, a study that investigates emerging adults' self-disclosure on TikTok can help young people know themselves better. Self-disclosure closely relates to one’s mental health:
it can both positively (life-satisfaction and self-esteem) and negatively (depression and anxiety) influence one’s mental well-being (Bazarova & Choi, 2014; Luo & Hancock, 2020).
A careful examination of emerging adults’ self-disclosure can help young people better understand their online behaviors. With this knowledge in mind, they can better control their online self-disclosure to preserve their mental health.
Several factors may explain emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok. First, previous studies found that personality traits are closely related to online self-disclosure (Bauer & Schiffinger, 2015; Chen et al., 2015). Extroverted people are more likely to engage in self-disclosure (Caci et al., 2019; Guo et al., 2018; Tsai et al., 2017). While extroverted people are more sociable and tend to exploit the Internet to develop their social relationships (Kraut et al., 2002), self-disclosure can help them achieve their goals. However, this
relationship may have its boundary. Kim et al. (2018) found that extroverted people will disclose themselves more on the Internet if they perceive a high level of social presence.
3 Social presence is a term describing the salience of other people in the interaction (Short et al., 1976). Because of the special algorithm design of TikTok, every user can have a vast number of potential audiences (Anderson, 2020). Thus, when using TikTok, people may perceive a high level of social presence. The context of TikTok provides favorable conditions for extroverted people to disclose themselves. When extroverted people cannot perceive a high level of social presence, they may in turn disclose themselves less. In this study, we continue to investigate the relationship between extroverted personality and self-disclosure, and the moderating role of social presence. Hence we propose our first research question:
Research question 1: How does extroverted personality relate to emerging adults’ self-
disclosure on TikTok and to what extent does this relation differ for people who perceive a high level of social presence compared to those who perceive a low level of social presence?
A previous study found that the most popular videos on TikTok are comedy and musical performance videos (Shutsko, 2020). While these types of video usually contain creators’ images, we may infer that a high percentage of users who create their own content disclose their personal images on TikTok. When disclosing their personal image on TikTok, people will have a lower level of perceived visual anonymity (Misoch, 2015). Since visual anonymity correlates with self-disclosure (Clark-Gordon et al., 2019), this variable may explain TikTok users’ excessive self-disclosure. However, studies that found a negative correlation between visual anonymity and self-disclosure didn’t find theoretical support to explain the relationship (Hollenbaugh & Everett, 2013; Misoch, 2015). In the current study, we proposed that private self-awareness, a status of paying attention to the self (Shaffer &
Tomarelli, 1989), may explain the relationship between the two variables. When people disclose their personal images, they may pay more attention to themselves and have a higher level of private self-awareness (Postmes et al., 1998). Also, a previous study showed that
4 private self-awareness positively correlates with self-disclosure (Joinson, 2001). Based on the discussion above, we may infer that visual anonymity correlates with self-disclosure
indirectly through private self-awareness. Thus, we propose the second research question:
Research question 2: How does perceived visual anonymity relate to emerging adults’ self- disclosure on TikTok and to what extent is this relation explained by private self-awareness?
By far, few studies used social presence to investigate online self-disclosure.
Meanwhile, there is no study using private self-awareness to explain the relationship between visual anonymity and self-disclosure. By answering the two research questions above, a deeper understanding of online self-disclosure can be obtained. In addition, little research has been done to examine emerging adults' self-disclosure on TikTok. Most studies that
examined online self-disclosure focused on social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook (Chen et al., 2015; Hey Tow et al., 2010; Nosko et al., 2010). TikTok focuses more on video browsing and may contain more visual cues (Hellemans et al., 2021). Considering visual cues are important factors in promoting people’s self-disclosure in computer-mediated
communication (CMC; Bargh et al., 2002), the way people behave on TikTok may also be different from Facebook. A study that investigates emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok will not only enrich our understanding of this novel social media platform but also contribute to the field of self-disclosure in general.
Self-disclosure on SNS
Self-disclosure is defined as “revealing intimate information about oneself ”(Derlega et al., 1993, p.1). To understand the motivation of self-disclosure, Chelune (1979) examined the basic dimensions of self-disclosure and proposed that people disclose their personal
5 information to gain social rewards and fulfill their psychological needs. Those rewards include social validation, self-expression, relational development, identity clarification, and social control. For the past 40 years, academia has overwhelmingly focused on the factor of relational development, for it is the main drive of people’s self-disclosure (Utz, 2015).
However, recent studies indicate that relational development may only hold true in private conversation. For public conversation (which is more common on SNS sites), impression management and social validation seem to be the prominent drivers for self-disclosure (Bazarova, 2012).
In recent years, with the emergence of SNS sites, CMC has become a vital part of daily life. Accordingly, people started to shift their self-disclosure behavior to the online environment. Studies find that online self-disclosure doesn’t conform to the traditional theories and understanding (Bazarova & Choi, 2014; Nguyen et al., 2012; Ruppel et al., 2016). Empirical evidence suggests that in comparison to face-to-face communication, CMC is characterized by higher levels of self-disclosure (Bargh et al., 2002; Joinson, 2001; Taddei et al., 2010). Among all the differences between online and offline communication, the anonymity (Misoch, 2015), reduced non-verbal cues (Schouten et al., 2009), and ill-defined audiences (Bazarova & Choi, 2014) in the online environment have been tested and may explain why people tend to disclose more in the online setting.
First, anonymity positively correlates with online self-disclosure, and this relationship can be explained by the online disinhibition effect (Lapidot-Lefler & Barak, 2015). This effect contends that the perceived anonymity makes people feel less restrained in an online setting (Suler, 2004), thus they are more likely to engage in self-disclosure. Second, reduced non-verbal cues lead to higher levels of perceived similarity (Coleman et al., 1999), control of self-presentation (Bargh et al., 2002), and uncertainty reduction (Tidwell & Walther,
6 2002), which positively correlate with online self-disclosure. Third, for the factor of ill- defined audiences, the “stranger on the train" phenomenon may explain why people disclose themselves more on the Internet (Join et al., 2011). This phenomenon proposes that people will disclose themselves more and faster to strangers because there is little foreseeable further interaction (Rubin, 1975). While CMC provides convenience to interact with strangers, it is possible that people disclose themselves more in CMC than in Face-to-face settings.
Meanwhile, according to the hyperpersonal CMC theory, people using CMC may have idealized perceptions of other users (Walther, 1996). Because of the reduced cues, people may form less detailed and more intense impressions of their audiences (Nguyen et al., 2012).
Thus, they may perceive a higher level of intimacy and are more willing to disclose
themselves to their audiences. To conclude, people incline to self-disclosure in CMC because the affordance of CMC can help fulfill their psychological needs.
Extroverted personality and online self-disclosure
Personality traits have been frequently used to investigate people’s self-disclosure in CMC (Bauer & Schiffinger, 2015). According to the Big Five Model developed by Goldberg (1992), openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, and neuroticism are the five major factors to describe personality traits. Most of the studies agree that extraversion positively predicts online self-disclosure (Caci et al., 2019; Chen et al., 2015; Guo et al., 2018; Tsai et al., 2017). Extroversion usually refers to sociability, positive emotions, and activity (McCrae & Costa, 1999). Extroverted people are more sociable and willing to develop their social relationships (Caci et al., 2019). As mentioned earlier, relational
development is the main drive of self-disclosure. The most frequently used theory to explain this underlying mechanism is social penetration theory (Altman & Taylor, 1973). According to this theory, people tend to disclose themselves more if their social relationships become
7 more intimate. Thus, self-disclosure is the key factor in establishing and maintaining intimate relationships. Since extroverted people intend to develop and enhance their social
relationships, it is likely they will use self-disclosure as a means to help them achieve their goals. Therefore, we propose our first hypothesis:
H1: Extroverted personality positively correlates with emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok.
Social presence and online self-disclosure
Social presence is defined as “the degree of salience of the other person in the interaction” (Short et al., 1976, p.1). As a cue-related theory, social presence is frequently used to explain people’s behaviors in CMC (Kim et al., 2017; Walther, 2009). Previous studies point out low perceived social presence encourages online self-disclosure (Bailenson et al., 2006; Sproull et al., 1996). With a lower social presence, the cues people can perceive during the interaction are also lower. In turn, reduced cues can provide favorable conditions for self-disclosure (Coleman et al., 1999). Meanwhile, lower social presence relates to fewer feelings of identifiability in CMC. According to the online disinhibition theory, less
perceived identifiability leads to more self-disclosure (Suler, 2004). Thus, we may infer that a low level of perceived social presence can encourage online self-disclosure, while a high level of perceived social presence negatively discourages online self-disclosure.
For extroverted people, perceived social presence may play a different role in their online self-disclosure. According to the social enhancement theory, people with high social resources are more likely to get more benefits from using the Internet (Kraut et al., 2002). In comparison with introverted people, extroverts can exploit the Internet and develop social relationships more easily (Kraut et al., 2002). When perceiving a high level of social
8 presence, extroverted people will invest more effort to increase their social contacts and cultivate social connections (Moore & McElroy, 2012). Since self-disclosure is an important way to develop social relationships (Utz, 2015), it is possible that extroverted people will disclose themselves more on the Internet if they perceive a high level of social presence. As for people who are less extroverted, since they are less likely to use self-disclosure to develop their social relationships, it is not expected that they will disclose themselves more when perceiving a high level of social presence. Based on the aforementioned reasoning, we propose the following hypothesis:
H2: The positive relationship between extroverted personality and self-disclosure is stronger
for people who perceive a high level of social presence than for people who perceive a low level of social presence.
Visual anonymity and online self-disclosure
One of the most distinguishable characteristics of CMC is that it can provide a comparatively anonymous context for social interaction (McKenna & Bargh, 2000). There are two types of anonymity in CMC: visual anonymity, the degree to which people feel they are unidentifiable; and discursive anonymity, the degree to which the source of the
information can be tracked (Joinson, 2001). A meta-analysis shows that anonymity has been frequently used to examine interpersonal behavior in CMC, and most studies found that anonymity could lead to more disinhibited behaviors (Clark-Gordon et al., 2019). This effect can be explained by the online disinhibition effect: people feel safer to say things online because they can remain anonymous and invisible during the CMC (Suler, 2004). Under this framework, most of the previous studies that investigated online self-disclosure contend that perceived anonymity encourages people’s online self-disclosure (Joinson, 2001; Suler, 2004;
9 Taddei et al., 2010). When people feel they are less identifiable in the anonymous
environment, they inhibit their behaviors less and are more likely to disclose themselves.
On the other hand, some other studies that adopted the same research methods found that perceived anonymity discourages self-disclosure (Hollenbaugh & Everett, 2013; Misoch, 2015). In another word, people will disclose themselves less if they are more anonymous.
According to those studies, the discrepancy can be explained by people’s willingness in self- image management and relationship management. As discussed earlier, self-disclosure can help foster social relationships. When exposed to an environment with high identifiability, people may disclose themselves more to develop their social relationships. Both findings may hold in their circumstances. The study that found anonymity encourages self-disclosure mostly focused on text-based online communication (Joinson, 2001); while studies that found anonymity discourages self-disclosures focused on cue-rich platforms like blogs and
YouTube (Hollenbaugh & Everett, 2013; Misoch, 2015). Studies that investigate the effect of visual information usually get opposite results from studies that focus on text-based
interaction (Schouten et al., 2009). This can be explained by the differences in the number of cues provided by different mediums. Since the platform we examine in this study is TikTok, a social networking site abundant with visual cues, we will following the studies that found a negative correlation between anonymity and self-disclosure and propose the following hypothesis:
H3: Perceived visual anonymity negatively correlates with emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok.
Visual anonymity and private self-awareness
10 Self-awareness is defined as the tendency to think about or focus attention on the self (Shaffer & Tomarelli, 1989). There are two types of self-awareness: private self-awareness, one's tendency to be aware or cognizant of covert aspects of self; and public self-awareness, one’s concerns of their appearance and impression made in social situations (Fenigstein, et al., 1975). Early studies showed that the characteristics of CMC could affect people’s situational private self-awareness: the anonymous environment and reduced cues can lower people’s private self-awareness (Sproull & Kiesler, 1986), while the reduced immediacy could promote people’ private self-awareness (Sassenberg et al., 2005). Postmes et al. (2002) believed that perceived accountability can explain the relationship between visual anonymity and private self-awareness. Visual anonymity can reduce people’s accountability in social interaction. Lowered accountability, in turn, will lead to deindividuation and less attention to self. This process can be explained by the social identity model of deindividuation effects (SIDE). The SIDE is a model aimed to explain the effects of anonymity and identifiability in CMC (Kim et al., 2019). Based on the cognitive perspective, Postmes et al. (1998) further developed the SIDE and claimed that (visual) anonymity could lead to the individual's depersonalization. With a higher level of depersonalization, people will pay less attention to themselves and have less private self-awareness. Thus, we may infer that visual anonymity discourages private self-awareness. Therefore we propose the following hypothesis:
H4: Visual anonymity negatively correlates with emerging adults’ private self-awareness on TikTok.
Private self-awareness and self-disclosure on SNS
A previous study indicated that heightened private self-awareness could increase self- disclosure (Joinson, 2001). People who have a high level of private self-awareness frequently introspect themselves, thus it is easy for them to retrieve and share personal information
11 (Hooi & Cho, 2014). Even though it is agreed that the status of private self-awareness makes self-disclosure more available (Schouten et al., 2009), most of the empirical evidence that supports this claim comes from the scenario of face-to-face communication. Only a few studies tested the relationship between private self-awareness and self-disclosure in CMC. In the current study, we will further test the relationship between the two variables. Therefore we propose the following hypothesis:
H5: Private self-awareness positively correlates with emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok.
The mediating role of private self-awareness
While visual anonymity may correlate with self-disclosure directly, it can also be connected with self-disclosure indirectly through private self-awareness. Building upon the previous discussion, we may infer the relationship between visual anonymity and self- disclosure can be explained by private self-awareness. Private self-awareness mediates the relationship between visual anonymity and self-disclosure. The mediation effect as well as the other hypothetical relationships are illustrated in Figure 1.
H6: Private self-awareness mediates the relationship between visual anonymity and emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok.
12 Figure 1. Theoretical model of the current study
To test the hypotheses, we conducted a cross-sectional survey and collected data from registered students from the University of Amsterdam. With a cross-sectional survey a large amount of data can be collected in a single time and the cost is relatively low (Bryman, 2012). Because of the time limitation and low budget, it is practical to adopt a cross-sectional survey in this study. As this study aimed to examine symmetric relationships, a cross-
sectional survey is competent to help achieve the goal. Based on the online survey platform Qualtrics, this survey was conducted online. The period of the data collection started on 19th April 2021 and ended on 3rd May 2021. The survey was based on self-report and all the respondents finished the survey individually.
The sampling frame of this study is students that are currently enrolled at the University of Amsterdam. As emerging adults, UvA students have a comparatively high education level. Most of them could be frequent users of social media. The high percentage of international students implies that our findings will not be confined to the Dutch social context. All of these features provide favorable conditions for our study. The expected sample size for this study was calculated by Gpower (Universität Düsseldorf: gpower, n.a.), with 2 predictors, 1 moderator, and 1 mediator, the optimal sample size of our study is 204 (power = .80, significance level = .05, effect size = .10). The sampling method we chose for this study is convenience sampling. Even though this method could lead to a result with weak representativeness and cannot fully represent the population, the limited time and budget of this study made convenience sampling the most feasible one.
In total, 211 students filled our survey, 38 of whom didn’t use TikTok before, thus their data is invalid. The ultimate sample size of this study is 173. The mean age of the respondents is 22.12 (SD = 1.99). For the gender distribution, 36.42% of our respondents are male (n = 63) and 63.01% are female (n = 109). One respondent preferred not to disclose their gender. For the convenience of analysis (transform gender into dummy variable), this data is treated as missing. When it comes to education level, 42.77% of our respondents are bachelor students (n = 74). 53.76% are master students (n = 93), and 2 respondents are PhD students (1.16%).
To recruit respondents, the researcher sent the URL of the survey to his acquaintances that are currently enrolled in UvA and asked them to help share and forward the link. The
14 researcher also shared the URL in Whatsapp and Facebook groups to target more
respondents. Before filling out the survey, respondents were offered a fact sheet and informed consent for online research. All respondents needed to read through these two sheets and indicate whether they agreed to participate in this study. After the fact sheets, respondents needed to answer questions regarding their personal information such as gender and age, followed by questions related to the key variables in the study. The questions were asked in the following order: perceived social presence, extroverted personality, visual anonymity, private self-awareness, and self-disclosure. To protect respondents’ privacy, this survey was anonymous and only collected a limited amount of personal information. Respondents’ IP addresses were also eliminated from the database. All these methods increase the difficulty to identify the respondents.
Extroverted personality. We used the Trait-Descriptive Adjectives (TDA) scale
developed by Goldberg (1992) to measure extrovert personality. TDA is the most commonly used measurement of “Big five” traits and has a higher Cronbach’s alpha (.84) than the other major scales, such as NEO Five-Factor Inventory and Revised NEO Personality Inventory (John et al., 2008). There are seven items in total. Five of them are positively phrased (e.g.,
“To what extent do you think you are an extroverted person?”), and two are negatively phrased (e.g., “To what extent do you think you are an inactive person?”). These two items were recoded before conducting a factor analysis. Respondents indicated to what extent they agreed with the statements on a 7-point Likert scale (ranging from 1. “not at all” to 7.
“completely”). A principal axis factoring (PAF) with an oblique rotation shows that the seven items loaded on one factor: only one component has an Eigenvalue above 1 (EV = 4.77) and it explains 68.14% of variance. In addition, the scree plot shows that there is a clear point of
15 inflexion after this component. Together the seven items form a reliable scale (Cronbach’s alpha = .92), deleting any items will not improve the reliability of the scale. For the
convenience of analysis, a new variable was created based on the mean index of all items (M
= 4.48, SD = 1.49).
Perceived social presence. The scale is adapted from the study by Nowak and Biocca
(2003). In the original study, the items were measured with sliding scales. To keep the consistency of measurement in our study, we changed it to a 7-point Likert scale (ranging from 1. “not at all” to 7. “completely”). There are six items in the scale (e.g., “When using TikTok, to what extent do you feel like you were inside the environment you saw/heard?).
All the items are positively phrased. The result from a PAF with an oblique rotation shows the six items clustered well on one factor (only one component has an Eigenvalue above one, EV = 3.72), it explains 62.03% of variance. With a Cronbach’s alpha of .87, these items form
a reliable scale. The reliability will not improve by deleting any items. A new variable was created based on the mean index of the six items (M = 4.18, SD = 1.37).
Perceived visual anonymity. Visual anonymity is usually examined by the methods of
experiments or content analysis. Thus, we created the measurement based on its definition. In this study, perceived visual anonymity is operationalized as “How often do you disclose your personal image on your TikTok posts?” This item is measured with a 5-point Likert scale (never, rarely, sometimes, often, always), with M = 2.83, SD = 0.91.
Private self-awareness. The scale is adapted from the Fenigstein Self-Consciousness
Scale (Fenigstein et al., 1975). While the original study intended to measure the traits of self- consciousness, several previous studies adapted this scale to measure the psychological state of self-awareness (Sassenberg et al., 2005; Schouten et al., 2009). Thus, we followed the previous studies and adapted this scale to measure respondents’ state of private self-
16 awareness during TikTok use. There are five items in the scale (e.g., “During the use of TikTok, I think about my engagement with other users all the time”). One of them is
negatively phrased and recoded. All the items are measured on a 7-point Likert scale, ranging from 1. “not at all” to 7. “completely”. All the items are loaded on one factor, since a PAF with an oblique rotation shows that only one component has an Eigenvalue above one (EV = 2.64). The factor explains 52.85% of variance. The scale is partially reliable (Cronbach’s alpha = .77). Deleting any items from the scale will not increase the reliability.Based on the mean index of the five items, a new variable was created(M = 4.51, SD = 1.12).
Self-disclosure. The measurement of self-disclosure is adapted from the study by
Wheeless and Grotz (1976). The measurement in their study covered several different facets of self-disclosure, such as accuracy and intimacy. We only used the measurement of the quantity of self-disclosure, for it is the main focus of this study. There are three items in total (e.g., “I frequently disclose my personal feelings on TikTok”). One of the items is negatively phrased and was recoded before conducting a factor analysis. Response categories ranged from 1 (not at all) to 7 (completely). A PAF with an oblique rotation shows that only one component has an Eigenvalue above 1 (EV = 2.20), and it explains 73.44% of variance. Thus we can assume that the 3 items are loaded on one factor. With a Cronbach’s alpha of .81, the 3 items form a reliable scale. Deleting any items will not improve the reliability of the scale.
A new variable was created based on the mean index of the three items (M = 3.77, SD = 1.59).
Control variables. Apart from gender, age, and education level, we also took TikTok
use time as our control variable. This is based on the consideration that heavy users and light users may exhibit different use behaviors on TikTok. This variable is measured by one item:
“How much time do you spend on TikTok per day?” Response categories ranged from “less
17 than 30 minutes” to “3 hours and more”. Among all respondents, 36.47% of them use TikTok for less than 30 minutes a day (n = 62), 31.76% of them use TikTok 30 to 60 minutes per day (n = 54).
Plan of analysis
Before testing all the hypotheses, we used a multiple linear regression to do the covariate check and determined which control variables to include in the analysis model. A multiple linear regression is used to test H1 and H2. Before running the regression analysis, we mean-centered extroverted personality and perceived social presence. An interaction variable was created based on the two mean-centered variables. An SPSS macro PROCESS (Hayes, n.a.) with model 4 and 5000 bootstrap samples was adopted to test H3, H4, and H5.
A multiple linear regression was used to do the covariate check. Gender, age, education level, and TikTok use time were included in this model. Results showed that only TikTok use time had a statistically significant effect on self-disclosure, b = 0.25, t = 2.09, p
= .038, 95% CI [0.01; 0.48]. A one-unit increase in TikTok use time predicts an increase in self-disclosure on TikTok of .25 units. Thus, we only took TikTok use time as the control variable and included it in the following analysis. The results of the covariate check are illustrated in Figure 2.
Variable b t p. 95% CI
Constant 3.99 19.67 .000 [3.59; .4.39]
Age -.15 -1.91 .057 [-0.30; 0.01]
Gender -.33 -1.30 .197 [-0.83; 0.17]
Education level -.03 -.12 .903 [-0.59; 0.53]
TikTok use time .25 2.09 .038 [0.01; 0.48]
Figure 2. The results of covariate check.
18 For research question 1, it is expected that extroverted personality positively
correlates with emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok, and this relationship is moderated by perceived social presence. To test all the hypotheses under research question 1, we used a multiple linear regression model. For the convenience of testing moderation effect, all the variables (excluding the outcome variable) were mean-centered. The model is statistically significant, F (4, 164) = 10.77, p < .001. Thus the model is very likely to predict the relationship between extroverted personality and self-disclosure in the population. With an adjusted R square of .189, the model predicts about 18.9% of the variance of self-disclosure.
Extroverted personality and self-disclosure. Extroverted personality positively
correlates with emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok, b = 0.27, t = 3.35, p = .001, 95%
CI [0.11; 0.44]. A one-unit increase in extroverted personality predicts an increase in self- disclosure on TikTok of .27 units. This effect is statistically significant, Therefore, H1 is supported, people who are extroverted also tend to disclose themselves more on TikTok.
The moderation effect of perceived social presence. Perceived social presence
positively correlates with emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok, but this effect is not statistically significant, b = 0.15, t = 1.85, p = .066, 95% CI [-0.01; 0.32]. The interaction variable of extroverted personality and perceived social presence positively correlates with self-disclosure, b = 0.17, t = 3.57, p < .001, 95% CI [0.08; 0.26]. This effect is statistically significant. This result implies that perceived social presence moderates the relationship between extroverted personality and self-disclosure. The moderation effect is illustrated in Figure 3 and the results are exhibited in Figure 4. When people are less extroverted, a higher perceived social presence restrains people from disclosing themselves on TikTok. However, when people are more extroverted, a higher perceived social presence stimulates them to disclose more on TikTok. This finding provides empirical support for our H2.
19 Figure 3. Moderation effect of perceived social presence on the relationship between extroverted personality and self-disclosure.
Variable b t p 95% CI
Constant 3.88 35.40 .000 [3.67; .4.10]
Extroverted personality 0.27 3.35 .001 [0.11; 0.44]
Social presence 0.15 1.85 .066 [-0.01; 0.32]
Interaction variable 0.17 3.57 .000 [0.08; 0.26]
TikTok use time 0.20 1.80 .074 [-0.02; 0.41]
Figure 4. The results of the regression analysis.
For research question 2, it is expected that perceived visual anonymity negatively correlates with emerging adults’ self-disclosure, and this relationship can be explained by private self-awareness. We used PROCESS (Hayes, n.a.), an SPSS macro, to test all the hypotheses under the research question 2. PROCESS adopted two linear regression models to test all the hypotheses. The first one focused on the correlation between the predictor and the mediator, and the second one used the predictor and the mediator to explain the variance in the outcome variable. The first model is statistically significant, F (1, 169) = 92.28, p < .001.
20 The model predicts 35% of the variance of the private self-awareness(adjusted R square
= .35). The second model is also statistically significant, F (2, 168) = 10.08, p < .001. The model predicts 11% of the variance in self-disclosure(adjusted R square = .11).
Perceived visual anonymity and self-disclosure. Perceived visual anonymity
positively correlates with emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok, b = 0.21, t = -1.32, p
= .19, 95% CI [-0.52; 0.10]. However, it is not statistically significant. We cannot assume there is a correlation between perceived visual anonymity and self-disclosure. Our H3 is rejected.
Perceived visual anonymity and private self-awareness. Perceived visual anonymity
positively correlates with emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok, b = 0.74, t = 9.61, p
< .001, 95% CI [0.58; 0.89]. A one-unit increase in perceived visual anonymity predicts an increase in self-disclosure of .74 units. This effect is statistically significant. The direction of the relationship is opposite to our expectation, Thus, H5 is rejected.
Private self-awareness and self-disclosure. Private self-awareness positively
correlates with emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok, b = 0.34, t = 2.67, p = .010, 95%
CI [0.09; 0.60]. Emerging adults’ self-disclosure increases by .34 units with a one-unit increase in private self-awareness. This effect is statistically significant. When people have a higher level of private self-awareness, they will tend to disclose themselves more on TikTok.
Our H6 is supported.
The mediation effect of private self-awareness. Since the correlation between
perceived visual anonymity and self-disclosure is not statistically significant, H7 is also automatically rejected. However, through private self-awareness, perceived visual anonymity still indirectly relates to self-disclosure. The standardized regression coefficient between
21 visual anonymity and private self-awareness is statistically significant, as is the standardized regression coefficient between private self-awareness and self-disclosure. Thus the
standardized indirect effect of visual anonymity on self-disclosure is .25. By using bootstrapping procedure (5000 bootstrapped samples), we tested the significance of the indirect effect. The bootstrapped unstandardized effect size of this relationship is .11, 95% CI [0.04; 0.46]. The indirect effect is statistically significant. Thus, we can assume that visual anonymity indirectly relates to self-disclosure, and this relationship is explained by private self-awareness. The indirect relationship is illustrated in Figure 5.
Note: *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p< .00.
Figure 5. The indirect relationship between perceived visual anonymity and self-disclosure.
By using a cross-sectional survey, this study investigated emerging adults’ self- disclosure on TikTok, a social media platform with increased popularity during the pandemic (Kennedy, 2020). The first aim of this study was to examine the roles extroverted personality plays in emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok, and whether the relationship between the two variables is more pronounced for people who perceive a higher level of social presence. In line with the previous findings (Caci et al., 2019; Chen et al., 2015; Guo et al.,
22 2018; Tsai et al., 2017), the results of our study showed that extroverted personality
positively correlates with emerging adults’ self-disclosure. Extroverted people tend to disclose themselves more on TikTok. This finding corresponds with the social penetration theory and social enhancement hypothesis: while extroverted people are more likely to develop and enhance their social relationships (Moore & McElroy, 2012), self-disclosure provides them with the means to do so (Utz, 2015). Thus extroverted people are more likely to disclose themselves on TikTok to help them develop their social relationship. The
moderation effect of perceived social presence was confirmed as well. Extroverted people will disclose themselves more if they perceive a higher level of social presence. This finding conforms the social enhancement hypothesis: extroverted people are more likely to exploit the Internet and gain social benefits (Kim et al., 2017). When extroverted people perceive a high level of social presence, they will use the chance to develop and enhance their social relationships (Chen et al., 2016). Self-disclosure, meanwhile, can help extroverted people to achieve their goals.
Apart from the hypotheses we proposed, we also noticed that the moderation effect of perceived social presence exhibits an opposite pattern for people who have less extroverted personalities. Namely, introverted people are less likely to disclose themselves if they perceive a high level of social presence. This phenomenon can be explained by the theory of the online disinhibition effect. Defined as the tendency for people to feel less restrained in an online setting (Suler, 2004), the online disinhibition effect can be accelerated by the absence of visibility (Lapidot-Lefler & Barak, 2012). Thus, a high level of perceived visibility can lead to more discreet behaviors on the Internet. For introverted people, when they perceive a high level of social presence, it is likely they will feel they are more visible on TikTok.
Therefore, they will tend to be more mindful of their behaviors and disclose themselves less.
To conclude, findings regarding the first aim of the study affirm the positive correlation
23 between extroverted personality and self-disclosure on TikTok. The moderation roles of perceived social presence are also demonstrated by the findings. While a high level of social presence can promote extroverted people’s self-disclosure, it can inhibit introverted people from disclosing themselves on the TikTok.
The second aim of the study was to investigate the relationship between visual
anonymity and emerging adults’ self-disclosure, and whether private self-awareness serves as the mediator between the two variables. According to the results, the correlation between visual anonymity and self-disclosure is not statistically significant. We cannot assume that there is a correlation between visual anonymity and emerging adults’ self-disclosure. This finding contradicts the online disinhibition theory. While the implication of the theory claims that perceived anonymity makes people feel less disinhibited in an online setting (Suler, 2004), evidence from this study suggests that anonymity has no effect on people’s self- disclosure on TikTok. A possible explanation is that the measurement of visual anonymity in this study was not valid. While most of the previous studies used experiments (anonymous versus non-anonymous setting) to measure visual anonymity, in this study we adapted the measurement into a survey question (the frequency of disclosing personal image). Due to the recall effect, respondents might not be able to give accurate answers. Meanwhile, the
disclosure of self-image may not be the accurate representation of visual anonymity. For some people, even though they only disclose their personal images infrequently, they may still perceive a high level of identifiability. While the validity of the survey measurement is not verified yet, there is a chance that the survey question did not reflect what we intended to measure.
For visual anonymity and private self-awareness, the findings suggest there is a positive correlation between the two variables: when people perceive a high level of visual
24 anonymity, they will also tend to focus more on themselves. This contradicts our prediction which was based on the SIDE model. According to the SIDE, less anonymity could lead to less depersonalization (Postmes et al., 1998). With less depersonalization, people may pay more attention to themselves and have a higher level of private self-awareness. However, the relationship between depersonalization and private self-awareness is not tested yet. Less depersonalization does not necessarily predict a high level of private self-awareness. A possible explanation of the positive correlation between the two vriables is that reduced social cues during CMC make people less distracted from themselves (Sassenberg et al., 2005). While few studies investigated the relationship between the two variables, findings from this study can fill the gap and enrich the understanding of the status of private self- awareness during CMC. When using SNS, people’s state of private self-awareness is
positively related to the perceived visual anonymity. When future studies investigate people’s private self-awareness in CMC, anonymity may be an important factor for them to consider.
In line with our prediction, the results showed that private self-awareness positively correlates with emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok. This finding also affirms previous studies (Hooi & Cho, 2014; Joinson, 2001).While a higher level ofprivate self-awareness makes people more attentive to their inner feelings, people may convert their attentiveness into self-disclosure. In conclusion, even though there is no direct relationship between visual anonymity and self-disclosure, the two variables can still correlate with each other indirectly through private self-awareness.
Theoretical and practical implications
The results from the current study provide new theoretical insights into the social enhancement theory and the field of anonymity. Firstly, by affirming the role perceived social presence plays in emerging adults’ online self-disclosure, this study shows a boundary
25 condition for social enhancement theory. While extroverted people may disclose themselves frequently on the Internet to enhance their social relationships, this may hold when they perceive a high level of social presence. When perceiving a high level of social presence, extroverted people are aware of other people in the online environment and are willing to disclose themselves to develop their social relationships. When perceiving a low level of social presence, extroverted people will not invest a lot of effort (i.e. engaging in self- disclosure) to enhance their social relationships.
Second, by suggesting that private self-awareness mediates the relationship between visual anonymity and self-disclosure, findings from this study contribute to the understanding of anonymity in CMC. While most studies used the online disinhibition effect to explain the positive correlation between visual anonymity and online self-disclosure (Joinson, 2001;
Suler, 2004; Taddei, Contena, & Grana, 2010), this study found the two variables correlate indirectly through private self-awareness. The status of private self-awareness can explain why visual anonymity encourages online self-disclosure. For future studies that examine the effects of visual anonymity, private self-awareness can be an important factor for them to consider.
The results of the current study can also help emerging adults understand their online behavior. By reading the findings from this study, emerging adults can understand that some factors, such as perceived social presence and visual anonymity, can encourage them to disclose themselves more on TikTok. As discussed earlier, self-disclosure is closely related to one’s mental well-being. Meanwhile, self-disclosure has some innate risks, such as violation of privacy and less control of personal information (Bazarova & Choi, 2014). By
understanding their self-disclosure on TikTok, emerging adults can better control their online behavior to preserve their mental-health and avoid risks.
26 Limitation and recommendations for future research
Several limitations of this study should be acknowledged and discussed. First, due to the limitation of time and budget, this study used a cross-sectional survey to collect data.
Thus, it is not possible to infer causal relationships from our findings. While the correlational relationships found in this study provide insights into the understanding of emerging adults’
online self-disclosure, they are less helpful in identifying the predictors of self-disclosure.
Future research should adopt methods like longitudinal studies or experiments to further test the findings from this study. For example, all the variables in this study can be assessed several times, with a time span between each assessment.
Second, the validity of the measurement of visual anonymity and private self- awarenessmay be questionable. While most of the previous studies used experiments to measure visual anonymity and private self-awareness, in this study we adapted the
experiment into survey questions. The reliability test showed that the two scales are reliable.
However, without a pilot study, the validity of the measurements is unknown, which calls the results of the study into question. For future research, a careful examination of the validity of the measurement is necessary.
Third, the choice of the population in this study indicates that the generalizability of the findings may be limited. This study chooses current registered UvA students as its targeted population. Considering that 90% of UvA students come from European Economic Area (EEA; Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2021), the population may reflect a comparatively homogeneous cultural context. Previous studies found that the extent to which people engage in self-disclosure varies across different cultural contexts: Latin Americans disclose
themselves more than North Americans (Horenstein & Downey, 2003); and American students have higher self-disclosure than Chinese students (Chen, 1995). Future research
27 should include people from different cultural contexts. For example, an item that asks
respondents’ cultural background can be included in the survey, so it will be easier to control the diversity of the cultural contexts of the samples. By this means, a more comprehensive view of emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok can be achieved.
Apart from the aforementioned limitations, there are two other suggestions for future studies. First, the role of visual anonymity should be further tested. In this study, we failed to find a direct correlation between the two variables. While a meta-analysis shows that the effects of visual anonymity on self-disclosure are heterogeneous (Clark-Gordon et al., 2019), more studies should be done to further examine the role visual anonymity plays in self- disclosure, especially to identify and test the potential moderators. While the possible moderators could lie in demographic, environmental, personal, or systematic categories, person-based variables may have the biggest influence on self-disclosure (Bauer &
Schiffinger, 2015). Thus, more attention should be paid to person-based variables, such as personality traits and personal perceptions. Second, the moderation effect of perceived social presence on the relationship between introverted personality and self-disclosure should be further tested. While this study intended to examine how perceived social presence moderate the relationship between extroverted personality and self-disclosure, the findings suggest that perceived social presence can also serve as a moderator for introverted personality and self- disclosure. Introverted people will disclose themselves less if more social presence is perceived. Since few studies touched upon this point, it is meaningful to further test this finding to help us better understand the relationship between personality traits and self- disclosure.
As the world’s most downloaded app in 2020 (Koetsier, 2021), TikTok experienced its phenomenal rise during the pandemic. But, until now, academia paid little attention to this social media platform regarding users’ self-disclosure. This study aimed to fill this gap by investigating how extroverted personality and perceived social presence relate to emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok, and whether visual anonymity and private self-awareness correlate with emerging adults’ self-disclosure on TikTok. The results showed that
extroverted people are more likely to disclose themselves on TikTok. In addition, the more social presence extroverted people perceive, the more they will disclose themselves.
Furthermore, the results showed that when people perceive a high level of visual anonymity, their private self-awareness will also rise. In turn, a high level of private self-awareness will lead to more self-disclosure on TikTok.
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Appendix A: The survey
With this letter, I would like to invite you to participate in a research study to be conducted under the auspices of the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR), University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Information about the research
As this research is being carried out under the responsibility of the ASCoR, University of Amsterdam, we can guarantee that:
1) Your anonymity will be safeguarded, and that your personal information will not be passed on to third parties under any conditions.
2) You can refuse to participate in the research or cut short your participation without having to give a reason for doing so.
3) Participating in the research will not entail your being subjected to any appreciable risk or discomfort, the researchers will not deliberately mislead you, and you will not be exposed to any explicitly offensive material.
For more information about the research you are welcome to contact the researcher Tianyu Li (email address: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone number: +31 648313451) at any time.
Should you have any complaints or comments about the course of the research and the procedures it involves as a consequence of your participation in this research, you can contact the designated member of the Ethics Committee representing ASCoR, at the following address: ASCoR
Secretariat, Ethics Committee, University of Amsterdam, Postbus 15793, 1001 NG Amsterdam;
020‐525 3680; ascor‐secr‐email@example.com. Any complaints or comments will be treated in the strictest confidence.
I hope to have provided you with sufficient information. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you in advance for your assistance with this research, which I greatly appreciate.
Kind regards, Tianyu Li
○I have read and understand the information about the research → next page INFORMED CONSENT
I hereby declare that I have been informed in a clear manner about the nature and method of the research, as described on the previous page.
I agree, fully and voluntarily, to participate in this research study. With this, I retain the right to withdraw my consent, without having to give a reason for doing so. I am aware that I may halt my participation in the survey at any time.
If my research results are used in scientific publications or are made public in another way, this will be done in such a way that my anonymity is completely safeguarded. My personal data will not be passed on to third parties.
If I wish to receive more information about the research, either now or in future, I can contact Tianyu Li (email address: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone number: +31 648313451).
Should I have any complaints about this research, I can contact the designated member of the Ethics Committee representing ASCoR, at the following address: ASCoR Secretariat, Ethics
38 Committee, University of Amsterdam, Postbus 15793, 1001 NG Amsterdam; 020‐525 3680; ascor‐secr‐email@example.com.
○I understand the text presented above, and I agree to participate in the research study Measurement for social presence → next page
○I do not agree and will not participate in the research study → end of the survey
---Page break --- First, I would like to ask you about some general background information.
Are you currently a registered student at the University of Amsterdam?
○Yes→ next page
○No→ end of the survey
---Page break --- Are you an active user on TikTok?
○Yes, I post videos and/or interact with other users→ next page
○No, I only watch TikTok videos or don’t use TikTok at all→ end of the survey
---Page break --- To which gender identity do you most identify?
○Prefer not to say
What is your age? (in year, e.g. 20)
What is your current education level?
How much time do you spend on TikTok per day?
○Less than 30 minutes