Thursday, July 26, 2001

Did you ever yell at your computer? Curse it for being stubborn, stupid and trying to trick you? Well, you're not the only one to treat your computer as if it has feeling and intent. Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass did a study on how people treat computers like real people. They let a group of people be tutored by a computer which thought itself to be a very good tutor. Afterwards some of the people evaluated the performance of the computer on the same machine which had tutored them, while others evaluated the performance on an other machine, or with pen and paper. The people evaluating the machine they were still on were significantly nicer in their evaluation. they were POLITE to the machine.

I think this is fascinating. Reeves and Nass explain this with the human brain being "old", and since it has no concept of anything but humans displaying certain signs of humanity, it will treat everything which behaves like a human in come communication aspects as if it IS human.

I wonder if there's more research out there about what people treat as if it's human? We display loyalty to brands, as we do to teams of athletes, for instance. But we also become territorial, and defend and protect territories - can the computer have become a territory we need to protect and where we wish to find positive features which makes it worth protecting? I know that I get fiercely territorial about objects, not the least of those computers, and mac-users are like a clan ready to battle under the sign of the holy apple. I never before considered apple in the context of the snow-white story before, by the way. I'll have to think a bit more about what that might mean.

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