Psychological cues from a computing product can lead people to
It’s not only computer novices who infer these psychological qualities; my research with
In the area of psychological cues, one of the most powerful persuasion principles is similarity.
Simply stated, the principle of similarity suggests that, in most situations, people we think are similar to us (in personality, preferences, or in other attributes) can motivate and persuade us more easily than people who are not similar to us.
Even trivial types of similarity—such as having the same hometown or
In the mid-1990s at Stanford, my colleagues and I conducted two studies that showed how similarity between computers and the people who use them makes a difference when it comes to persuasion. One study examined similarity in personalities. The other investigated similarity in
In the first study, my colleagues and I investigated how people would respond to computers with personalities.
To prepare for the research, we designed two types of computer “ personalities”: one computer was dominant, the other submissive. We focused on
How do you create a dominant or submissive computer? For our study, we created a dominant computer interface by using bold, assertive
For example, if a participant was
In the desert, the
intensesunlight will clearly cause blindness by the second day. The sunglasses are absolutelyimportant.
This assertion from the computer was in a bold font, with a high confidence rating.
In contrast, if a person was assigned to the submissive computer, he or she would read a similar statement, but it would be presented in this way:
In the desert, it seems that the intense sunlight could possibly cause blindness by the second day. Without adequate vision, don’t you think that survival might become more difficult? The sunglasses might be important.
This statement was made in an italicized font, along with a low ranking on the confidence meter. To further
Another step in preparing for this study was to find dominant and submissive people to serve as study participants. We asked potential participants to fill out personality assessments. Based on the completed assessments, we selected 48 people who were on the extreme ends of the continuum—the most dominant and the most submissive personalities.
We found these participants by having almost 200 students take personality tests. Some, but not all, were engineers, but all participants had experience using computers. In the study, half of the participants were dominant types and half were submissive.
In conducting the study, we mixed and matched the dominant and submissive people with the dominant and submissive computers. In half the cases, participants worked with a computer that shared their personality type. In the other half, participants worked with a computer having the
The information provided by all the computers was
After we ran the experiment and
Specifically, when working with a computer perceived to be similar in personality, users judged the computer to be more competent and the interaction to be more
Research Highlights: The Personality Study
Created dominant and submissive computer personalities
Chose as participants people who were at extremes of dominant or submissive
Mixed and matched computer personalities with user personalities
Result: Participants preferred computers whose “personalities” matched their own.
The evidence from this study suggests that computers can motivate and persuade people more effectively when they share personality traits with them—at least in terms of dominance and submission. For designers of persuasive technology, the findings suggest that products may be more persuasive if they match the personality of target users or are similar in other ways.
While running the personality study, we set out to conduct another study to examine the persuasive effects of other types of similarity between people and computers. [23 ] For this second study we investigated similarity in affiliation— specifically, the persuasive impact of being part of the same group or team. The study included 56 participants, mostly Stanford students along with a few people from the Silicon Valley community. All the participants were experienced computer users.
In this study, we gave participants the same Desert Survival Problem to solve. We assigned them to work on the problem either with a computer we said was their “teammate” or with a computer that we gave no label. To visually
Research Highlights: The Affiliation Study
Participants were given a problem to solve and assigned to work on the problem either with a computer they were told was a “teammate” or a computer that was given no label.
For all participants, the interaction with the computer was identical; the only difference was whether or not the participant believed the computer was a teammate.
The results compared to responses of other participants: people who worked with a computer labeled as their teammate
After completing the study, we examined the data and found significant differences between the conditions. When compared with other participants, people who worked with a computer labeled as their teammate reported that the computer was more similar to them, in terms of approach to the task, suggestions offered, interaction style, and similarity of rankings of items needed for survival. Even more interesting, participants who worked with a computer labeled as a teammate thought the computer was smarter and offered better information.
In addition, participants who worked on the task with a computer labeled as a teammate reported that the computer was friendlier and that it gave higher quality information. Furthermore, people who perceived the computer to be similar to themselves reported that the computer performed better on the task. [24 ]
During the study we also measured people’s behavior. We found that computers labeled as teammates were more effective in influencing people to choose problem solutions that the computer advocated. In other words, teammate computers were more effective in changing people’s behavior.
All in all, the study showed that the perception of shared affiliation (in this case, being on the same “team”) made computers seem smarter, more credible, and more likable—all attributes that are correlated with the ability to persuade.
Among people, similarity emerges in
One company that has done a good job of this is Ripple Effects, Inc., which “helps
People are more readily persuaded by computing technology products that are similar to themselves in some way.
As this example and the Stanford research suggests, designers can make their technology products more persuasive by making them similar to the target audience. The more that users can identify with the product, the more likely they will be persuaded to change their attitudes or behavior in ways the product suggests.
The two studies just described suggest that people are more
Designing psychological cues into computing products can raise ethical and practical questions. Some researchers suggest that deliberately designing computers to project psychological cues is unethical and unhelpful. [30 ] They argue that psychological cues mislead users about the true nature of the machine (it’s not really having a social interaction with the user). Other researchers maintain that designing computer products without attention to psychological cues is a bad idea because users will infer a psychology to the technology one way or another. [31 ]
While I argue that designers must be aware of the ethical implications of designing psychological cues into their products, I side with those who maintain that users will infer a psychology to computing products, whether or not the designers intended this. For this reason, I believe designers must embed appropriate psychological cues in their products. I also believe this can be done in an ethical manner.
My belief that users infer a psychology to computing technology
What I found surprised Oscillotech’s management. The scopes’ text messages, delivered on a single line at the bottom of the scopes’ displays, were somewhat
They were wrong. My research showed that Oscillotech’s scopes made a much less favorable
What was more convincing was a controlled study I performed. To test the effects of simply changing the error messages in Oscillotech’s scopes, I had a new set of messages—designed to portray the personality of a helpful senior engineer—burned into the Oscillotech scopes and
The result? On nearly every measure, people who used the new scope rated the device more favorably than people who used the previous version of the scope, with the unfriendly messages. Among other things, users reported that the “new” scope gave better information, was more accurate, and was more knowledgeable. In reality, the only difference between the two scopes was the personality of the message. This was the first time Oscillotech addressed the issue of the “personality” of the devices it produced.
This example illustrates the potential impact of psychological cues in computing products. While it is a
[15 ] For more on the predictability of attractiveness, see the following:
a. M. Cunningham, P. Druen, and A. Barbee, Evolutionary, social and personality
b. J. H. Langlois, L. A. Roggman, and L. Musselman, What is average and what is not average about attractive faces? Psychological Science, 5: 214–220 (1994).
[16 ] When it comes to emotions and computers, Dr. Rosalind Picard’s Affective Computing Research Group at MIT has been blazing new trails. For more information about the group’s work, see http://affect.media.mit.edu/.
[17 ] My research involving engineers and social responses to computer devices was performed for HP Labs in 1995.
[18 ] H. Tajfel, Social Identity and Intergroup Relations (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982).
[19 ] R. B. Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice, 3rd ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1993).
Persuasion scholar Robert Cialdini
See also H. Tajfel, Social Identity and Intergroup Relations (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982).
[21 ] C. I. Nass, Y. Moon, B. J. Fogg, B. Reeves, and D. C. Dryer, Can computer personalities be human personalities? International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 43: 223–239 (1995).
For each study, we
[23 ] J. M. Digman, Personality structure: An emergence of the five-factor model, The Annual Review of Psychology, 41: 417–440 (1990).
[24 ] C. I. Nass, B. J. Fogg, and Y. Moon, Can computers be teammates? Affiliation and social identity effects in human-computer interaction, International Journal of Human- Computer Studies, 45(6): 669–678 (1996).
[25 ] B. J. Fogg, Charismatic Computers: Creating More Likable and Persuasive Interactive Technologies by Leveraging Principles from Social Psychology, doctoral dissertation, Stanford University (1997).
[26 ] Part of my list about similarity comes from
S. Shavitt and T. C. Brock, Persuasion: Psychological Insights and Perspectives (Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1994).
[27 ] http://www.rippleeffects.com.
[28 ] To read about the research, see http://www.rippleeffects.com/research/studies.html.
To get a sense of how computers can use emotions to motivate and persuade, see R. Picard, Affective Computing (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997). See also the
C. Marshall and T. O. Maguire, The computer as social pressure to produce
[31 ] For more about the advisability (pro and con) of incorporating social elements into computer systems, see the following:
a. B. Shneiderman, Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human- Computer Interaction (Reading, MA: Addison Wesley Longman, 1998).
b. B. Shneiderman and P. Maes, Direct manipulations vs. interface