Sonja Utz


My main research topics are

I am also interested in Here is some information about older research projects:

Social media use in professional settings

Professional social networking sites (PSNS) such as LinkedIn or Xing promise their users to make them more successful by giving them access to people and information. Within the ERC-project ReDefTie (Redefining tie strength: How social media (can) help us to get non-redundant information and emotional benefits) we found that LinkedIn-users report higher professional informational benefits (operationalized as (timely) access to information and referrals; Burt, 1992). My work concentrates on the processes explaining this effect. On the cognitive side, we examine how people develop ambient awareness, i.e. a knowledge about who-knows-what in their network by regular skimming social media updates. We did so mainly with experiments and surveys, but from September 2019, we will also use machine learning methods to see how good expertise can be extracted from actual tweets (project as part of the DFG-excellence cluster machine learning for sciences). We also look at the role of networks and now networking influences social media use and retrieving informational benefits. Weaker ties are often more useful for retrieving non-redundant information, but people prefer to connect with similar others. In the WissenschaftsCampus project “Overcoming cognitive and motivational barriers for networking: contact recommendation systems in professional settings" we explore how systems should be designed to stimulate people to connect also with less similar others.
ReDefTie - redefining tie strength: How social media (can) help us to get non-redundant useful information and emotional support.

Selected publications

Levordashka & Utz (2017). Spontaneous trait inferences on social media. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 8(1), 93-101. DOI: 10.1177/1948550616663803

Levordashka, A. & Utz, S. (2016). Ambient awareness: From random noise to digital closeness in online social networks. Computers in Human Behavior, 60, 147-154. DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2016.02.037

Muscanell, N.E. & Utz, S. (2017). Social networking for scientists: An analysis on how and why academics use ResearchGate. Online Information Review, 41(5),744-759. DOI:10.1108/OIR-07-2016-0185

Utz, S. (2016). Is LinkedIn making you more successful? The informational benefits derived from public social media. New Media & Society, 18(11), 2685-2702. DOI: 10.1177/1461444815604143

Utz, S., & Breuer, J. (2016). Informational benefits from social media use for professional purposes: Results from a longitudinal study. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 10(4), article 3. DOI:10.5817/CP2016-4-3

Utz, S. & Breuer, J. (2019). The relationship between networking, Linkedin use and retrieving informational benefits. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 22, 180-185. DOI:10.1089/cyber.2018.0294


Social media use, (para)social relationships and well-being

Another part of the ERC-project had focused on the emotional effects (envy, happiness) and effects of Facebook use on social support and well-being. We are currently extending this work to other platforms (e.g., Instagram) and examine more broadly social comparison processes on social media. We do not only focus on negative effects such as envy, but also on positive effects such as inspiration and pride, mood management by social media use or the role of (para)social relationships built and maintained with the help of social media.

Selected publications

Lin, R., Levordashka, A., & Utz, S. (2016) Ambient intimacy on Twitter. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 10(1), article 1. DOI: 10.5817/CP2016-1-6

Lin, R., Van de Ven, N. & Utz, S. (2018). What triggers envy on social network sites? A comparison between shared experiential and material purchases. Computers in Human Behavior, 85, 271-281. DOI:10.1016/j.chb.2018.03.049

Utz, S. & Maaß, C.H. (2018). Understanding the relationship between Facebook use and adaptation to financial hardship: evidence from a longitudinal panel study. Computers in Human Behavior, 89, 221-229. DOI:10.1016/j.chb.2018.08.021

Utz, S. & Muscanell, N.L. (2018). Pride, but not envy, mediates the effect of system-generated achievement messages on motivation. Frontiers in Psychology – Emotion Science, 9, DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00628

Levordashka & Utz (2017). Spontaneous trait inferences on social media. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 8(1), 93-101. DOI: 10.1177/1948550616663803

Lin, R. & Utz, S. (2017). Self-disclosure on SNS: Do disclosure intimacy and narrativity influence interpersonal closeness and social attraction? Computers in Human Behavior, 70, 426-436. DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2017.01.012

Older research on social network sites

We have conducted research on the following topics

  • privacy concerns and self-disclosure
  • need for popularity and the use of SNS. The need for popularity turned out to be an important predictor of SNS use and the psychological consequences of SNS use
  • impression formation on SNS
  • the effects of political campaigns on Hyves (e.g., who pays attention to the campaign, does interaction with the voters result in a more positive evaluation?)

Selected publications:

Utz, S. (2015). The function of self-disclosure on social networking sites: not only intimate, but also positive and entertaining self-disclosures increases the feeling of connection. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 1-10. DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2014.11.076

Utz, S. & Muscanell, N. (2015). Social media and social capital: Introduction to the special issue. Societies, 5, 420-424. DOI: 10.3390/soc5020420.

Utz, S. & Beukeboom, C.J. (2011). The role of social network sites in romantic relationships: Effects on jealousy and relationship happiness. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 16, 511-527

Utz, S. (2010). Show me your friends and I will tell you what type of person you are: how own profile, number of friends, and type of friends influence impression formation on social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 15, 314-335.

Utz, S. (2009). The (potential) benefits of campaigning via Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14, 221-243.

Utz, S. & Krämer, N. (2009). The privacy paradox on social network sites revisited: The role of individual characteristics and group norms. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research in Cyberspace.


Crisis communication on social media

Classical crisis communication theories such as Situational Crisis Communication Theory (Coombs 2007) focus on the fit between crisis type and crisis communication strategy. Our research has shown, that it is more complex: the medium used also matters; companies are often evaluated more positively when they use social media for crisis communication. Currently, we extended this work to crisis communication in sport (together with Tim Pawlowski und Felix Otto) and examine differences between individual athletes and teams and the role, parasocial relationships and human voice play in communication with fans on Facebook.

Selected publications:

Utz, S., Schultz, F., & Glocka, S. (2013). Crisis communication online: How medium, crisis type and emotions affected public reactions in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Public Relations Review, 39, 40-46. DOI: 10.1016/j.pubrev.2012.09.010

Schultz, F. Utz, S., & Göritz A. (2011). Is the medium the message? Perceptions of and reactions to crisis communication on twitter, blogs and traditional media. Public Relations Review, 37, 20-27.

Schultz, F., Kleinnijenhuis, J., Oegema, D., Utz, S., & Van Atteveldt, W. (2012).

ReDefTie - redefining tie strength: How social media (can) help us to get non-redundant useful information and emotional support.
framing in the BP crisis: A semantic network analysis of associative frames. Public Relations Review. 39, 97-107

(Self-service) visualizations

Since more and more data are available and processing capacity has increased, self-service visualization tools have become more popular, for example in the context of business intelligence. The promise is that everyone in the company now could analyze data, and that the power is no longer in the hand of the data scientists. However, it is unclear whether self-service visualizations indeed help people to understand complex data better and make in turn better (business) decisions. It could also be that people feel overwhelmed by the amount of visualization options or lose trust in the data once they realize that different visualizations might lead to different conclusions. In the Eurostars project Dr.TIDE (2016-2019), we develop together with the Norwegian company Scan4News and Genillard (M@uuml;nchen) a business intelligence tool that can also include external data from customized searches and offers self-service visualization tools. The team at IWM examines how complex data should be best visualized to foster comprehension and decision making. In the second half of the project, specific attention will be paid to the effects of self-service visualizations on comprehension, trust in conclusions and (group) decision making.

Selected publication:

Kopp, T., Riekert, M., & Utz, S. (2018). When cognitive fit outweighs cognitive load: Redundant data labels in charts increase accuracy and speed of information extraction. Computers in Human Behavior, 86, 367-376. DOI:10.1016/j.chb.2018.04.037


Strategic information sharing

Sharing information or knowledge is an important part of communication, especially in organizational settings. However, since knowledge is power and sharing information could imply a loss of this competitive advantage, people often are reluctant to share information. Sharing information can be viewed as a social dilemma, more specific, a public good dilemma (Cabrera & Cabrera, 2002). Research on social dilemmas has almost exclusively used paradigms in which points or coins were shared, thereby neglecting the fact that information differs from commodities. Information is not lost when shared, information can also vary in quality, and the value of information changes if more people have the same information. People can therefore show strategic behavior, e.g. sharing low quality unimportant information to make a cooperative impression, but still withholding the really important information. Together with Wolfgang Steinel (Department of Organizational and Social Psychology, University of Leiden) I developed a paradigm that allows studying these strategic aspects of information sharing. By varying the relevance and sharedness of information and manipulating the social motive of the participants, we can show that people show indeed strategic information sharing behavior and withhold deliberately important information.

My former PhD student Nicoleta Balau focused within the Eurostars project InFuSe also on motivational and cognitive factores underlying strategic information sharing. She looked also at the effects of information display (push vs. pull information), the role of cognitive closure and more subtle forms of information sharing (e.g., pressing a share button).

Selected publications:

Balau, N., & Utz, S. (2017). Information sharing as strategic behaviour: The role of information display, social motivation and time pressure. Behaviour and Information Technology, 36(6), 589-605. DOI:10.1080/0144929X.2016.1267263

Balau, N., & Utz, S. (2016). Exposing information sharing as strategic behavior: Power as responsibility and 'trust' buttons. Journal of Applied Social Psychology,46, 593-606. DOI: 10.1111/jasp.12388

Utz, S., Muscanell, N. & Göritz, A.S. (2014). Give, match, or take: A new personality construct predicts resource and information sharing. Personality and Individual Differences, 70, 11-16. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2014.06.011

Steinel, W., Utz, S., & Koning, L. (2010). The good, the bad and the ugly thing to do when sharing information: Revealing, concealing and lying depend on social motivation, distribution and importance of information. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 113, 85-96.


Electronic word-of-mouth

On consumer-communities such as, or, consumers can write reviews about products or services. I am interested in two questions: Why do people write reviews on these sites (e.g. reputation, altruism,…) and how do people use these reviews to make decisions. What is more important, the reviews on a consumer community or factors like the reputation of a company? The first question has been addressed by an online survey among users of the German consumer community, the second is studied in (web) experiments.

Selected publications:

Utz, S. (2009). Egoboo vs. altruism: the role of reputation in online consumer communities. New Media & Society, 11, 371-388.

Utz, S. & Kerkhof, P., & Van Den Bos, J. (2012). Consumers rule: How consumer reviews influence trust in online stores. Electronic Commerce Research and Applications. 11,49-58


The reparation of trust in eBay

Trust is a fundamental problem in online markets in which buyers and sellers don't know each other, cannot communicate face-to-face and in which many interactions are only one-shot interactions. Reputation systems are a solution to this problem. Buyers and sellers can give each other positive, neutral, or negative feedback. These ratings can be accompanied by short comments. Prior research has shown that reputation of a seller influences probability of sale and end price. However, it has not been studied how a seller can repair trust after having received negative feedback. This is even more important because eBay is a noisy environment - things go wrong without the fault of the seller, e.g. a parcel gets lost in the mail, computers crash, people have accidents. I am interested in how trust can be repaired by the short reactions that sellers can give on the negative feedback comments. What is the most effective strategy - apology, denial, attribution to noise? And in how far is this moderated by the type of trust violation (competence-based vs. morality-based trust violation)? These questions have been studied in laboratory and field experiments Currently, the actual reactions of sellers on eBay are analyzed (supported by a CCSS-fellowship grant).

Selected publication:

Utz, S., Matzat, U., & Snijders, C. (2009). Online Reputation Systems: The Effects of Feedback Comments and Reactions on Building and Rebuilding Trust in Online Auctions. International Journal of Electronic Commerce, 13, 95-118.


Media use in interpersonal relationships

Several smaller studies focused on media use in interpersonal relationships. One project examined media use in long-distance friendships and detected an interesting asymmetry between absolute and relative measures of communication. Although people used relatively less email communication in closer long-distance friendships, they wrote more emails to a close long-distance friend. For phone call, both measures showed an increase. Even in close friendships, email communication was not really intimate for the real important topics, most respondents used the phone. Another study examined how people manage various email addresses. In the early days of the Internet, an university address indicated status and the early users looked down to people with aol or compuserve addresses. Nowadays, most people have several email addresses and many use them deliberately depending on the context.

Selected publications:

Utz, S. (2007). Media use in long distance friendships. Information, Communication, and Society, 10, 693-712.

Utz, S. (2004). Enter your email-address: How German Internet users manage their email addresses. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 7, 241-246.


Effects of priming on behavior in social dilemmas

Social dilemmas are situations in which individual and collective interests are in conflict. I was interested in the effects of priming, the subtle activation of specific concepts, on cooperation in social dilemmas. In several studies I primed participants for example with I- or competence-primes and examined whether the effects were moderated by social value orientation. Competitors, who associate competence with individual rationality, i.e. competition, exhibit lower levels of cooperation when primed with competence, whereas prosocials, who association competence also with collective rationality, tend to show higher levels of cooperation. In a similar way, I primes further strengthen the effects of social value orientation.

Selected publications:

Utz, S. (2004). Self-construal and cooperation: Is the interdependent self more cooperative than the independent self? Self and Identity, 3, 177-190.

Utz, S. (2004). Self-activation is a two-edged sword: The effects of I primes on cooperation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 769-776. 

Utz, S., Ouwerkerk, J.W., Van Lange, P.A.M. (2004). What is smart in a social dilemma? Differential effects of priming competence on cooperation. European Journal of Social Psychology, 34, 317-332.


Social identification and interpersonal attraction in virtual communities

Already as a student, I got interested in virtual communities, and I pursued this interest in my PhD project. In the late nineties, most virtual communities were text-based, like the adventure role-playing games which I studied (multi-user-dungeons, MUDs). My PhD project focused on the antecedents and consequences of social identification with virtual communications, later, I also looked at interpersonal relationships.

Utz, S. (2003). Social identification and interpersonal attraction in MUDs. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 62, 91-101.

Utz, S. (2000). Social Information Processing in MUDs: The development of friendships in virtual worlds. Journal of Online Behavior, 1 (1). Retrieved from the World Wide Web: