Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Media Equation, Byron Reeves & Clifford Nass

The media equation (published 1996) states that “media equals real life” and is, the authors assert, a rule that governs how all of us interact with media. I guess most of us can imagine equating mediated and real life as something that we do occasionally when tired or stressed - shouting at the computer, for example - but the authors insist that it is ubiquitous - all of us do it, and do it often. To test their hypothesis that our interactions with computers, TV etc. are fundamentally social and natural, the authors started with social science research into human behaviour. They chose a range of findings, substituted “person” or “environment” with media to form a new hypothesis which was then tested in the same way as the original social science finding. For example, in investigating politeness, the authors came up with the following hypotheses:
  1. When a computer asks a user about itself, the user will give more positive responses than when a different computer asks the same questions.
  2. Because people are less honest when a computer asks about itself, the answers will be more homogenous than when a different computer asks the same questions.

Areas they investigated included manners (politeness, interpersonal distance, flattery, judgement), personality, emotion, social roles (including gender). In every case the authors found that their research backed the hypotheses.

They also found that it is true for all sorts of media – computers, interfaces, pictures, audio, video; it is true for all types of people (whatever their education or background – computer scientists included) and it isn’t dependent on the complexity, sophistication or “realism” of the media – very basic images or interfaces will elicit the same responses.

The authors are quick to point out that it’s not that we think computers are people, or that we think it reasonable to act as if they are – in a sense we can’t help doing it. (well, we can avoid it for a time but it requires a lot of effort and is difficult to sustain). And the reason behind these behaviours? According to the authors, evolution is the culprit – it simply hasn’t equipped us to deal with technology. Up until the technological era only humans exhibited rich social behaviours and all perceived objects were real objects, so we have evolved to respond to anything that appears to behave socially or seems to be a real object as if it actually is.

These findings have obvious implications for the design and evalution of media. If we design systems that mirror how social relationships and physical environments work, users will find using these systems intuitive, will more readily engage with the systems and find interaction more rewarding.

No comments:

Post a Comment