Social Information Processing Theory (SIPT) is a communication theory that focuses on how individuals engage in virtual communication and build relationships without the benefit of physical cues. This theory posits that people can develop close and meaningful relationships through computer-mediated communication (CMC). In this article, we will explore how SIPT works and its implications in today’s digital age.

History of Social Information Processing Theory

Social Information Processing Theory was first introduced by Joseph Walther in 1992. Walther posited that CMC lacks the nonverbal cues that we normally use to communicate. As such, individuals must rely on other cues such as language usage, timing, and other communication behaviors to form impressions of others.

How Social Information Processing Theory Works

According to SIPT, when we interact with others through CMC channels such as email, social media platforms, or instant messaging services, we rely on our cognitive processes to form impressions of others. These cognitive processes involve three stages:

Stage 1: Impression Formation

In this stage, we begin to form an impression of the person we are communicating with based on their online behavior. We rely on various cues such as the language they use, the timing of their responses, and their tone to form our initial impression.

Stage 2: Relationship Development

Once we have formed an initial impression of someone through CMC channels, we begin to develop a relationship with them. This involves sharing personal information about ourselves and getting to know the other person better.

Stage 3: Relationship Maintenance

In this final stage, we work to maintain our relationship with the other person through continued interaction over time. This involves ongoing communication and sharing new information about ourselves as well as continuing to learn more about the other person.

Implications of Social Information Processing Theory

Social Information Processing Theory has significant implications in today’s digital age. With the increased use of CMC channels for communication, it is essential to understand how individuals form impressions and maintain relationships through these channels.

One key implication is that individuals may be more likely to disclose personal information about themselves when communicating through CMC channels than they would in face-to-face communication. This can create both opportunities and risks for individuals, such as building stronger relationships or being vulnerable to online predators.


In conclusion, Social Information Processing Theory highlights the importance of understanding how we form impressions and build relationships through computer-mediated communication channels. By recognizing the cognitive processes involved in these interactions, we can better navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by virtual communication.