Media Inequality in Conversation: How People Behave Differently When Interacting With Computers and People


Shechtman, N., & Horowitz, L. M. (2003). Media inequality in conversation: How people behave differently when interacting with computers and people. Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Fort Lauderdale, FL.


How is interacting with computer programs different from interacting with people? One answer in the literature is that these two types of interactions are similar. The present study challenges this perspective with a laboratory experiment grounded in the principles of Interpersonal Theory, a psychological approach to interpersonal dynamics. Participants had a text-based, structured conversation with a computer that gave scripted conversational responses. The main manipulation was whether participants were told that they were interacting with a computer program or a person in the room next door. Discourse analyses revealed a key difference in participants ’ behavior – when participants believed they were talking to a person, they showed many more of the kinds of behaviors associated with establishing the interpersonal nature of a relationship. This finding has important implications for the design of technologies intended to take on social roles or characteristics.

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