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Effects of User Control and Perceived Message Tailoring on Responses to a Health Web Site
Unformatted Document Text:  2 deliver messages selected on the basis of the user’s previous choices or responses. We therefore prefer a conceptualization that likens interactivity to characteristics of a person engaged in conversation. A new message generated by a conversational partner is predicated on and contingent upon all previous messages exchanged between the two partners (Lieberman, 1986; Rafaeli, 1988; Rafaeli, 1990). Interactivity, conceived this way, resides in interpersonal communication and also in human-computer interaction, where a person exchanges messages with an interactive medium such as a computer, video game, smart toy, robot, virtual environment, or web site. With this conceptualization of interactivity, as conversation, we can observe it along a single dimension, with the unit of analysis being the individual conversational partner (human or computer). As such it can be asked, How interactive is the individual in that conversation? To what extent does the individual acknowledge, factor in, and respond to previous messages exchanged in the conversation? Alternatively, the unit of analysis could be the pair of actors engaged in the process of interactivity (see Rafaeli, 1988). For example, we could observe whether two conversational partners—not just one individual—have a low or high incidence of interactivity. However, in this study we focus on the individual level of analysis, on the interactivity presented by one partner in the conversation (a web site in this case), in order to observe the other partner’s responses to that interactivity. A portion of the study also investigates a related concept, perceived interactivity, which we consider to be an individual’s psychological impression of the extent to which the conversational partner is thinking about and factoring in previous messages exchanged. This impression may be an erroneous one, but it is the impression that counts (Newhagen, Cordes, & Levy, 1995). With perceived interactivity, it does not matter whether the conversational partner is really factoring in previous messages. Instead, what matters is the individual’s perceptions that this is or is not occurring. Perceived interactivity is a useful concept for the study of people’s interactions with technology, which could be programmed to give the user the superficial appearance of being interactive, but may actually be delivering a “canned” presentation that is not predicated at all on previous messages exchanged. While interactivity—and its close cousin, perceived interactivity—can each be operationalized along a single dimension, it is also useful to consider the many different ways a conversational exchange can be interactive, and to categorize and study each component separately. For example, a conversational partner may or may not provide feedback, acknowledgment, solicitousness, contentiousness, empathy, self-disclosure, and so on. When the partner is interactive technology, components of interactivity also include features of the interface, for instance, the amount of user control afforded, the level of vividness and social presence, and the number of sensory modalities or symbol systems presenting the information. Heeter (1989), for example, identifies six dimensions of media interactivity including user choice, user effort, medium responsiveness, system use monitoring, contributing information, and facilitation of interpersonal communication. Interactivity in interpersonal communication and human-computer interaction. Interactivity has been explicated and studied by scholars of interpersonal communication and media communication. Interpersonal communication scholars are interested in the interactivity that occurs in conversations. For example, their research finds that people who are more attentive to their conversational partner and who easily adapt to various communication goals and communicators are considered to have more conversational involvement and communicator competence (Cegala, 1984; Chen, 1995; Cody & McLaughlin, 1985; Goffman, 1967; Spitzberg & Cupach, 1988; Waldron, Cegala, Sharkey, & Teboul, 1990). They are more attentive to their partner’s words and behaviors, more sensitive to the flow of the conversation in order to respond appropriately, and more engaged in integrating their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors into the ongoing conversation. As a result, people tend to like and feel more positive about people who are conversationally competent (Chen, 1995). They are more attentive to the messages produced by conversationally competent people and more engaged in the topic of conversation.

Authors: Lieberman, Debra., Lingsweiler, Ryan., Yao, Mike. and Chesler, Zachary.
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deliver messages selected on the basis of the user’s previous choices or responses. We therefore prefer a
conceptualization that likens interactivity to characteristics of a person engaged in conversation. A new
message generated by a conversational partner is predicated on and contingent upon all previous
messages exchanged between the two partners (Lieberman, 1986; Rafaeli, 1988; Rafaeli, 1990).
Interactivity, conceived this way, resides in interpersonal communication and also in human-computer
interaction, where a person exchanges messages with an interactive medium such as a computer, video
game, smart toy, robot, virtual environment, or web site.

With this conceptualization of interactivity, as conversation, we can observe it along a single dimension,
with the unit of analysis being the individual conversational partner (human or computer). As such it can
be asked, How interactive is the individual in that conversation? To what extent does the individual
acknowledge, factor in, and respond to previous messages exchanged in the conversation? Alternatively,
the unit of analysis could be the pair of actors engaged in the process of interactivity (see Rafaeli, 1988).
For example, we could observe whether two conversational partners—not just one individual—have a
low or high incidence of interactivity.

However, in this study we focus on the individual level of analysis, on the interactivity presented by one
partner in the conversation (a web site in this case), in order to observe the other partner’s responses to
that interactivity. A portion of the study also investigates a related concept, perceived interactivity, which
we consider to be an individual’s psychological impression of the extent to which the conversational
partner is thinking about and factoring in previous messages exchanged. This impression may be an
erroneous one, but it is the impression that counts (Newhagen, Cordes, & Levy, 1995). With perceived
interactivity, it does not matter whether the conversational partner is really factoring in previous
messages. Instead, what matters is the individual’s perceptions that this is or is not occurring. Perceived
interactivity is a useful concept for the study of people’s interactions with technology, which could be
programmed to give the user the superficial appearance of being interactive, but may actually be
delivering a “canned” presentation that is not predicated at all on previous messages exchanged.

While interactivity—and its close cousin, perceived interactivity—can each be operationalized along a
single dimension, it is also useful to consider the many different ways a conversational exchange can be
interactive, and to categorize and study each component separately. For example, a conversational
partner may or may not provide feedback, acknowledgment, solicitousness, contentiousness, empathy,
self-disclosure, and so on. When the partner is interactive technology, components of interactivity also
include features of the interface, for instance, the amount of user control afforded, the level of vividness
and social presence, and the number of sensory modalities or symbol systems presenting the information.
Heeter (1989), for example, identifies six dimensions of media interactivity including user choice, user
effort, medium responsiveness, system use monitoring, contributing information, and facilitation of
interpersonal communication.

Interactivity in interpersonal communication and human-computer interaction. Interactivity has
been explicated and studied by scholars of interpersonal communication and media communication.
Interpersonal communication scholars are interested in the interactivity that occurs in conversations. For
example, their research finds that people who are more attentive to their conversational partner and who
easily adapt to various communication goals and communicators are considered to have more
conversational involvement and communicator competence (Cegala, 1984; Chen, 1995; Cody &
McLaughlin, 1985; Goffman, 1967; Spitzberg & Cupach, 1988; Waldron, Cegala, Sharkey, & Teboul,
1990). They are more attentive to their partner’s words and behaviors, more sensitive to the flow of the
conversation in order to respond appropriately, and more engaged in integrating their own thoughts,
feelings, and behaviors into the ongoing conversation. As a result, people tend to like and feel more
positive about people who are conversationally competent (Chen, 1995). They are more attentive to the
messages produced by conversationally competent people and more engaged in the topic of conversation.


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