Who Invented Social Information Processing Theory?


Jane Flores

Social Information Processing (SIP) theory is a well-known communication theory that explains how people communicate online. It was first introduced by Joseph Walther in 1992.

The Background

Before the advent of the internet, most communication was face-to-face or through traditional media like newspapers and television. However, with the rise of the internet and social media platforms, it became clear that people were communicating in new ways.

Joseph Walther, a professor at Cornell University, recognized this shift and sought to understand how people were communicating online. He saw that online communication was different from in-person communication and required a new framework to explain it.

The Theory

Walther’s Social Information Processing theory posits that individuals use unique cues to develop impressions and form relationships online. In face-to-face communication, nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and body language are critical for understanding someone’s intentions or emotions. In contrast, online communicators rely on verbal cues such as grammar usage, tone of voice, and emoticons to convey meaning.

According to SIP theory, individuals create mental models of others based on these verbal cues. These models help shape how we perceive others’ personalities and intentions over time. This means that individuals can form strong relationships through online communication despite never meeting in person.


SIP theory has practical applications for various fields ranging from marketing to psychology. One major area where SIP theory has been applied is in online dating research. Studies have found that the same principles of SIP apply: individuals can develop meaningful relationships even when they only communicate virtually.

Moreover, SIP theory has been used to explain group dynamics in virtual teams or communities where team members rarely meet face-to-face but still work together effectively.


Joseph Walther’s Social Information Processing Theory has significantly contributed to our understanding of how we communicate online. It has been applied in numerous fields and has helped shape our understanding of virtual relationships. SIP theory reminds us that even in a world dominated by technology, human connections remain critical.