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Effects of User Control and Perceived Message Tailoring on Responses to a Health Web Site
Unformatted Document Text:  3 Media communication scholars who study human-computer interaction have demonstrated that people respond to conversationally competent computer-delivered messages in ways similar to their responses to a human conversational partner. In one study, for example, a computer-delivered opinion questionnaire was designed with three levels of conversational competence (Lieberman, 1986; Rafaeli, 1988). The high competence version presented messages, interspersed among the opinion items, that were attentive and sensitive to, and solicitous of, participants’ feelings (e.g., asking them how they feel, whether they are tired, and so on); the control condition version presented opinion items only; the low competence version provided blunt, conversationally incompetent, critical feedback assessing the consistency (usually the lack thereof) of participants’ expressed opinions. Participants in the solicitous group gave significantly higher, more positive, evaluations of their experiences with the computer than those in the control or critical feedback groups, and those in the critical feedback group gave significantly lower, more negative, evaluations of their experiences with the computer compared to the other two groups. These findings demonstrate that the conversational competence of a computer-based conversational partner can affect people’s evaluations of it. These evaluative responses have been shown, in the interpersonal realm, to influence people’s attentiveness to and depth of processing of their conversational partner’s messages. In other examples, research by Reeves, Nass, and others (see Reeves & Nass, 1996) consistently demonstrates that people respond socially and naturally to media and mediated messages, in many of the same ways they do when interacting directly with people in real life. User control is conceptualized in this study as the extent to which a user of a computer-based system, such as a web site, can freely navigate the interactive environment and select content at will. Others have defined user control in the same way, noting that it is a continuum ranging from complete control by the user to complete control by the system or medium (Eveland & Dunwoody, 2001; Lieberman & Venkatesh, 1988; Milheim & Martin, 1991). We consider user control to be a component of interactivity because when user control is high the computer-based conversational partner is being highly responsive to the user’s input. Related to user control is the concept of selective exposure (see Zillmann & Bryant, 1985), a process in which the individual makes conscious and intentional selections of information based on criteria such as interest or personal relevance. People perceive information differently if they select it themselves (e.g., user control) or if someone else selects it (e.g., message tailoring) for them (Jones & Brehm, 1967). A high level of user control can increase learning more effectively than a high level of system control, when learners are able to choose the pace, order, and content of instruction based on their individual interests and preferred learning style (Kinzie, Sullivan, & Berdel, 1988). Also, when learners are in control of their own instruction, their motivation for learning may increase (Kinzie, 1990; Steinberg, 1989). However, there are instances when system control is preferable, for example when the material should be learned in a predetermined sequence or when learners are low-achievers or novices in relation to the topic or skill being taught (Lieberman & Linn, 1991), or in cases where learners skip essential information because it did not seem interesting to them (Eveland & Dunwoody, 2001). Message tailoring and perceived message tailoring. Tailoring is a message design strategy that has been widely studied, especially in the area of health communication (for example, Brug et al., 1998; Kreuter et al., 2000). A tailored message is one that is intended to reach a specific person, based on characteristics that are unique to that person, and derived from individual assessment (Kreuter, Farrell,

Authors: Lieberman, Debra., Lingsweiler, Ryan., Yao, Mike. and Chesler, Zachary.
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Media communication scholars who study human-computer interaction have demonstrated that
people respond to conversationally competent computer-delivered messages in ways similar to
their responses to a human conversational partner. In one study, for example, a computer-
delivered opinion questionnaire was designed with three levels of conversational competence
(Lieberman, 1986; Rafaeli, 1988). The high competence version presented messages,
interspersed among the opinion items, that were attentive and sensitive to, and solicitous of,
participants’ feelings (e.g., asking them how they feel, whether they are tired, and so on); the
control condition version presented opinion items only; the low competence version provided
blunt, conversationally incompetent, critical feedback assessing the consistency (usually the lack
thereof) of participants’ expressed opinions. Participants in the solicitous group gave
significantly higher, more positive, evaluations of their experiences with the computer than those
in the control or critical feedback groups, and those in the critical feedback group gave
significantly lower, more negative, evaluations of their experiences with the computer compared
to the other two groups. These findings demonstrate that the conversational competence of a
computer-based conversational partner can affect people’s evaluations of it. These evaluative
responses have been shown, in the interpersonal realm, to influence people’s attentiveness to and
depth of processing of their conversational partner’s messages.

In other examples, research by Reeves, Nass, and others (see Reeves & Nass, 1996) consistently
demonstrates that people respond socially and naturally to media and mediated messages, in
many of the same ways they do when interacting directly with people in real life.

User control is conceptualized in this study as the extent to which a user of a computer-based
system, such as a web site, can freely navigate the interactive environment and select content at
will. Others have defined user control in the same way, noting that it is a continuum ranging
from complete control by the user to complete control by the system or medium (Eveland &
Dunwoody, 2001; Lieberman & Venkatesh, 1988; Milheim & Martin, 1991). We consider user
control to be a component of interactivity because when user control is high the computer-based
conversational partner is being highly responsive to the user’s input.

Related to user control is the concept of selective exposure (see Zillmann & Bryant, 1985), a
process in which the individual makes conscious and intentional selections of information based
on criteria such as interest or personal relevance. People perceive information differently if they
select it themselves (e.g., user control) or if someone else selects it (e.g., message tailoring) for
them (Jones & Brehm, 1967).

A high level of user control can increase learning more effectively than a high level of system
control, when learners are able to choose the pace, order, and content of instruction based on their
individual interests and preferred learning style (Kinzie, Sullivan, & Berdel, 1988). Also, when
learners are in control of their own instruction, their motivation for learning may increase (Kinzie,
1990; Steinberg, 1989). However, there are instances when system control is preferable, for
example when the material should be learned in a predetermined sequence or when learners are
low-achievers or novices in relation to the topic or skill being taught (Lieberman & Linn, 1991),
or in cases where learners skip essential information because it did not seem interesting to them
(Eveland & Dunwoody, 2001).

Message tailoring and perceived message tailoring. Tailoring is a message design strategy that has
been widely studied, especially in the area of health communication (for example, Brug et al., 1998;
Kreuter et al., 2000). A tailored message is one that is intended to reach a specific person, based on
characteristics that are unique to that person, and derived from individual assessment (Kreuter, Farrell,


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