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The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media like Real People and Places (Center for the Study of Language and Information Publication Lecture Notes) [Paperback]

Byron Reeves , Clifford Nass
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

13 May 1998 Center for the Study of Language and Information Publication Lecture Notes
According to popular wisdom, humans never relate to a computer or a television program in the same way they relate to another human being. Or do they? The psychological and sociological complexities of the relationship could be greater than you think. In an extraordinary revision of received wisdom, Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass demonstrate convincingly in The Media Equation that interactions with computers, television, and new communication technologies are identical to real social relationships and to the navigation of real physical spaces. Using everyday language, the authors explain their novel ideas in a way that will engage general readers with an interest in cutting-edge research at the intersection of psychology, communication and computer technology. The result is an accessible summary of exciting ideas for modern times. As Bill Gates says, '(they) … have shown us some amazing things'.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 323 pages
  • Publisher: The Center for the Study of Language and Information Publications; New edition edition (13 May 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1575860538
  • ISBN-13: 978-1575860534
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 15.7 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 401,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"The best book on this topic..." Speech Technology

Book Description

In an extraordinary revision of received wisdom, Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass demonstrate convincingly in The Media Equation that interactions with computers, television, and new communication technologies are identical to real social relationships and to the navigation of real physical spaces.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Anyone working in "new media" (writers, political consultants, market research, advertising, software designers, tv and movie makers, webmasters, cinematographers, etc.), not aware of how our "old," hunter-gatherer brains interpret the modern world, isn't working with a full tool box.

Authors Reeves and Nass show, through their experiments, that people (including programmers and many others intimately familiar with how media works) cannot disengage hard-wired caveman brains when working with software, playing a game, watching an ad, or seeing a movie. If we could, then why did that horror movie make our hearts race? And why did it make us jumpy afterwards?

So how do we treat computers like people? Here's one example from the book. In human interaction, one is likely to politely agree (a/k/a fib a little) with an acquaintance who says, "Isn't this a great sweater?" One also tends to be more honest discussing the sweater with a third party, "That sweater isn't my favorite color."

If people do treat computers like humans, then (substituting computers for people in the example), a person would agree with Computer A (out of politeness!), but tell Computer B the truth. And that's what happened in the authors' test lab.

People were quizzed by Computer A (programmed to perform poorly), "Aren't I doing a great job?" -- and they gave Computer A high marks. Then, in another room, Computer B asked about Computer A's performance... and people rated Computer A more honestly (and consistantly lower than they rated Computer A "to its face.") The pattern of response to the computers matched the way people interact with each other.
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By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Thsi book is the basis for the communication department at stanford university. it is a very easy read and a worthwhile read
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5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read 29 Jun 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Communicationswith the computer are becoming more and more human-like. Giving a computer a feminine voice affects how we respond to the computer's output to us.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read popularization 19 Feb 2002
By Bob Carpenter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The media equation, as introduced by Nass and Reeves, is that "media equals real life" and that our interactions with media are "fundamentally social and natural" (p. 5). This book is a popularization of established, replicated research on how people interact with television advertising, tutoring systems, error messages, loud noises, sudden movement, etc. For instance, one widely replicated result is that computer tutoring systems get better evaluations if the evaluation program is run on the same computer. Moving the reviewer to a new computer (with the same program), significantly lowers the score. The social science literature shows that teachers who collect their own evaluations score much more highly than those whose evaluations are collected by others. This is the kind of evidence Nass and Reeves bring to bear in support of the media equation. They don't claim that we are consciously thinking about the computer's feelings and don't want to hurt them. Rather, to the contrary, subjects claim they were doing no such thing. Yet the evidence of our behavior seems incontrovertible.
The media equation is a good enough predictor of user behavior, at least for telephone-based spoken dialog systems of the form my company builds, that it has informed our designs from top to bottom. Our applications apologize if they make a mistake. Callers respond well to this. Sure, the callers know they're talking to a machine, but this doesn't stop them from saying "thank you" when it's done or "please" before a query or feeling bad (or angry) if the computer can't understand them. Another strategy recommended by Nass and Reeves that we follow is trying to draw the caller in to work as a team with the computer; again, Nass and Reeves support this with several clever experiments. There is also a useful section on flattery, looking at the result of the computer flattering itself and its users; it turns out that we rate computers that flatter themselves more highly than ones that are neutral.
Among other interesting explanations you get in this book are why we're more tolerant of bad pictures than bad sound, why we focus on moving objects, speaking rate equilibrium, what we can do to make someone remember an event in a video, and the role of gender.
This book is very quick and easy to read. I read it in two days while on vacation it was so fascinating. In contrast to the classical yet dry social science format of hypothesis, experimental methodology, results, and essentially a summary of the results as a conclusion, Nass and Reeves only vaguely summarize their experimental methodology and take a no-holds-barred approach to drawing conclusions. This may annoy social scientists, most of whom expect their own kind to be far more circumspect.
This book is an absolute must-read for anyone designing mediated interfaces. For those who don't believe the results, I'd suggest running some experiments; our company did, and it made us believers.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great interpretation of how people interact with media 13 Aug 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The authors explain their hypothesis that people tend to treat computers, television and new media like they would human beings, and that people react to media-based presentations as if they were real-life situations -- even when people consciously realize this is not the case. It's a really interesting premise and the authors do an excellent job explaining their ideas.
The only reason I didn't give this work 5 stars is that the authors do not provide enough data on the results of their experiments. They frequently mention "significant" results, but they do not offer the results themselves for the reader to decide just how significant those results may be. This book is clearly written for a large audience, most of whom probably prefer to have the authors offer an interpretation without padding the work with lots of charts and tables. I would have liked a footnote or two with the actual experiment data, but regardless it's an excellent and intriguing read.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in interface design or media studies.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Media representations are people too! 25 Mar 2000
By Craig Webster - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book presents a series of social psychology experiments which demonstrate that in almost all respects people treat media representations of people and places like the real thing. The rules and social cues which apply to interactions with other people subconsciously apply to interactions with a face on a screen, or a computer interface, or a disembodied voice. People interacting with a computer which praises them for their performance on a quiz will attribute the same characteristics to the computer as they would to a person who praises - the computer will be seen as more competent and its feedback will be more valued. Social attribution can even occur with an interface as technologically unsophisticated as text on a screen. Why we act this way can be explained by our brain's evolutionary past - during the evolution of the brain all entities which looked or behaved like people were exactly that, there were no artificial representations. Representations in media are therefore interpreted naturally, that is, as they would appear in the world. So while our conscious minds are sophisticated enough to tell the difference and may deny interacting in a social manner with media, our old subconscious does not make the distinction.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revolutionary! Why media must appeal to the caveman. 28 Feb 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Anyone working in "new media" (writers, political consultants, market research, advertising, software designers, tv and movie makers, webmasters, cinematographers, etc.), not aware of how our "old," hunter-gatherer brains interpret the modern world, isn't working with a full tool box.

Authors Reeves and Nass show, through their experiments, that people (including programmers and many others intimately familiar with how media works) cannot disengage hard-wired caveman brains when working with software, playing a game, watching an ad, or seeing a movie. If we could, then why did that horror movie make our hearts race? And why did it make us jumpy afterwards?

So how do we treat computers like people? Here's one example from the book. In human interaction, one is likely to politely agree (a/k/a fib a little) with an acquaintance who says, "Isn't this a great sweater?" One also tends to be more honest discussing the sweater with a third party, "That sweater isn't my favorite color."

If people do treat computers like humans, then (substituting computers for people in the example), a person would agree with Computer A (out of politeness!), but tell Computer B the truth. And that's what happened in the authors' test lab.

People were quizzed by Computer A (programmed to perform poorly), "Aren't I doing a great job?" -- and they gave Computer A high marks. Then, in another room, Computer B asked about Computer A's performance... and people rated Computer A more honestly (and consistantly lower than they rated Computer A "to its face.") The pattern of response to the computers matched the way people interact with each other.

In example after example, covering many, many areas of human behavior (from politeness to flight-or-flight and even to how little it takes for us to perceive something as male or female and how that colors our thoughts), Reeves and Nash show us how our old brains are responding to our high-tech world .

The ideas in this book should provoke discussion, controversy, and more study. But, those in media need to adjust to the reality that if you want to talk to the 21st century human -- you better learn, first, how to appeal to the caveman. <P
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid Social Science 9 Nov 2000
By Baron Schaaf - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A previous review called this book "psuedo-scientific drivel."
In fact, this book is far from it. Well, as far from it as social science can get. In fact, is the most "scientific" of the user interface books I have read.
The main point I took away from the book is that people interact with objects, especially interactive and media devices, as if they were people. They demonstrate that when user interfaces are designed to be polite and interact in a positive social manner, the person has a much more enjoyable and profitable interaction.
Other books on the topic of user interface design are far less scientific, relying on generalizations and suppositions rather than constructing a study. Some use data from a usability evaluation, but these are often far from scientific.
The authors construct hypotheses, usually based on the results of studies of interaction between humans, and see if the results of the results hold true for human-machine interaction.
Usually, it does.
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