The Man Who Lied to His Computer:  What we can learn about human relationships from our computers.                                                                                                               By Clifford Nass,  Ph.D.

Sounds impossible, I mean how do you lie to your computer? Clifford Nass is a brilliant social psychology researcher that has discovered how to get some really reliable results to some very interesting questions.

Dr. Nass demonstrates how socially driven we really are, even with our computers. In his book he describes how to give an effective apology by setting up an experiment with a computer. (I’ll be writing more about that in a later blog).  He talks about how tone of voice can change everything.  For instance believe it or not people complained about the voice and the gender of the voice in their GPS’s.   Nass describes how a car company got complaints about the GPS because it was a woman’s voice telling them what to do.

Dr. Nass talks about how we relate to a computer as if it is human.  In an interesting research project, it was found that people worked better with a computer program if it apologized to them.

What the research came up with was that the participants using a program that had an apology message “Sorry, that there was a problem” tended to make fewer mistakes than one that had a terse message “You are in error”.  On one level, we know that the computer is only a machine and yet on another we respond to it as it reacts to our feelings.  In an other experiment, the same results of positive accomplishment happened when tested in the use of computer games.  When the feedback was encouraging, the players had better scores and reported enjoying the game more than when the feedback was simply informational.

The book even goes into how even computers can be programmed to get better results from their users.  If we can program a computer, imagine what we can teach people about how to motivate each other.

Dr. Nass’s work is a fascinating first step in understanding both computer-human interaction as well as interaction between people.  There is no escaping the increasing impact that computers have in our life, so the more we understand this machine-man connection the more we will be able to harness that information for humankinds’ benefit

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