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Social Presence and Online Agents:
Does Rich Media and Agency Make a Difference?
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 2
This study examined perceptions of social presence between
participants and an online agent.
The presence of biographical information and richness of media was
manipulated to create a 2x2
factorial design. When controlling for gender, results demonstrated a
significant main effect for
biographic information and a significant interaction effect for media
richness. Limitations and
theoretical implications are discussed, as are directions for future research.
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 3
Social Presence and Online Agents:
Do Rich Media and Agency Make a Difference?
Ever since "Rosie" the robot maid appeared in The Jetsons', many have
the day that robots would eventually become part of the family. These
robots would be complete
with personalities of their own, and in the case of Rosie, would be
able to help family members
with routine chores, loyally and untiringly. Although that day has
been slow in coming, advances
in computer technologies have given us various online agents to tide
us over until artificially
intelligent life forms can become part of the family. Techno
theorists such as Ray Kurzweil and
Nicholas Negroponte believe that personality software will eventually
be available to customize
computers (Negroponte, 1995) and that purchasing items or making
reservations will be
conducted through vocal interaction with online agents (Kurzweil, 1999).
Recent research suggests that treating computers like humans is not
so far fetched. A
recent study shows that people do in fact anthropomorphize computer
terminals (Sundar, 2004).
However, before we get to the phase in human computer interaction,
where people treat
computers like family members, there is still much work that needs to
be done. One such area
that still requires exploration is in the area of social presence. In
particular, which variables can
be manipulated in order to help create the perception that instead of
dealing with a computer,
people are dealing with other people. The following review will
discuss two theoretical
frameworks from Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) literature on which
we base our claims
and then explicate social presence. Next, the variables of biography
and media richness will be
discussed pertaining to their relationship to social presence. This
in turn will be followed by
hypotheses, results, implications and possibilities for future study.
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 4
The interaction literature with respect to humans and computers has
two main models:
Computer As Medium (CAM) and Computer As Source (CAS) or Computer As
Computer as medium. As maintained by the CAM model, computers are
regarded as a
medium like other traditional media and are conceptualized as
connecting individuals with a
source. The CAM model argues that when people are interacting with a
computer, they are
psychologically orienting to an unseen programmer or an imagined
person. According to Sundar
and Nass (2000), such a view holds that there is a logical and
rational thought or idea that the
person is interacting with another person rather than with a machine.
This would imply, then,
that human-computer interaction is actually perceived as
Computer as social actor. Sundar and Nass (2000) explain that in
contrast to the CAM
model, researchers operating under the Social Responses to
(SRCT) model argue that human-computer interaction is unmediated and
On the same grounds, the CASA paradigm views the tendency to respond
both as reflexive and as a product of the use of heuristics by humans
(Moon, 2000). First
formalized in 1994, the CASA theory holds that "computer users elicit
social behavior even
though they know that computers do not actually have feelings,
"selves", genders or human
motivations" (Nass, Steuer, & Tauber, 1994, p. 72).
Moon (2000) argues that people are cognitive misers and use mental
shortcuts to apply
social rules even to computers regardless of whether people are aware
that they are just
machines. The most salient social cue - the box, the voice or the
agent on the computer
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 5
screen—is most likely to elicit social responses from the users
(Moon, 2000). Voice, physical
features, social intelligence, emotion or greetings, apologies,
turn-taking, and the like are strong
social cues in any human-human interaction. So when humans are
confronted with computers
that exhibit such human-like characteristics, the social orientation
becomes even more
pronounced (Moon, 2000).
People attribute gender to a computer (Nass et al., 1997a), are
polite to computers (Nass
et al., 1997b), apply social stereotypes (Nass et al., 1997a) and
look for motives when computers
flatter or criticize (Fogg & Nass, 1997). Different voices
originating from the same computer are
regarded as distinct social actors, while a single voice originating
from two identical computers
is regarded as a single social actor (Nass et al., 1997). CASA
researchers also contend that
factors such as perceived or portrayed race and ethnicity of the
computer play a vital role in
shaping the social interaction between humans and computers.
The CASA approach guides the experiment discussed here. The
participants in the study
were clearly and explicitly told they would be interacting with a
virtual agent, thereby negating
the possibility that they were under the impression that they may be
talking with another person
behind the screen.
Studies involving computer interfaces with text-based or
graphics-based computer agents
reveal that users tend to orient themselves psychologically to the
agent, particularly when these
agents exhibit distinct "personality types" (Moon and Nass 1996,
1998; Nass et al. 1995). Dryer
(1999) discusses how the personality of an agent proves an important
factor in invoking social
responses from human users. He argues that the ability to use
full-sentence text, contingent
behavior and social role are the three main features of agents that
encourage social responses
from users (p.277).
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 6
Such computer agents/Conversational agents, also called Online agents
or Chatterbots are
defined by Wooldridge and Jennings (1995), as self-contained,
concurrently executing software
processes that encapsulate some state and are able to communicate
with other agents and humans
via message passing. Conversational agents are implemented using
concepts that are usually
applied to humans. Wooldridge and Jennings (1995) discuss autonomy,
social ability, reactivity
and proactivity as some common characteristics of such agents.
Mobility (White, 1994; c.f.
Wooldridge & Jennings, 1995), veracity (Galliers, 1998; c.f.
Wooldridge & Jennings, 1995),
benevolence (Rosenschein & Genesereth, 1985; c.f. Wooldridge &
Jennings, 1995) and
rationality (Galliers, 1998; c.f. Wooldridge & Jennings, 1995) are
also other attributes of such
virtual agents. Ascribing such human qualities to computers is a
product of thinking about such
agents as intentional structures. "The intentional notions are
abstraction tools, which provide us
with a convenient and familiar way of describing, explaining, and
predicting the behavior of
complex systems" (Wooldridge & Jennings, 1995, p.9). This idea of
intentionality would then
demonstrate that people react to computers as independent sources of
information (Sundar &
Nass, 2000). Logically, such source attribution to computers and
conversational agents could
then give rise to feelings of social presence when humans interact
The concept of social presence has been studied in many disciplines
over the last thirty
years. Among them are: Sociology, psychology and, more recently, the
areas of communication
and technology. Social presence has been defined as "the degree to
which people establish warm
and personal connections with each other in a communication setting"
(Short, Williams &
Christie, 1976; Allen, Van Scotter, & Otondo, 2004). This definition
focuses more on the human
nature of social presence by specifying that people are necessary as
senders and receivers of
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 7
social presence. Other researchers have left the nature of the sender
and receiver more
ambiguous, while still focusing on the importance of connection by
presence as "a sense of engagement or connection with a social
entity" (Witmer & Singer, 1998,
pg. 227) or as "a sense that others are psychologically present and
exchanges are warm, personal, sensitive and active" (Papacharissi &
Rubin, 2000, pg.177).
Still, other researchers assert that social presence may be perceived
even in the physical
absence of another entity. These researchers theoretically define
social presence as "the
awareness of, and care about, the evaluations of a social audience
(Schlenker & Leary, 1982).
This audience does not necessarily need to be physically present, but
can be imagined as well"
(Edelmann, 1981). (As cited by Dahl, Manchanda, & Argo, 2001, pg. 474).
Finally, still other researchers have specified that social presence
can be felt with a mix of
humans and technological agents and thereby conceptualize social
presence as "a sense of being
near or with a social entity of some kind (feeling connected to
another person, computergenerated
avatar or character, or a technology that appears to be 'alive')"
(Bracken & Lombard,
2004, pg. 24). Similarly, social presence has also been defined as
"the extent to which other
beings both living and synthetic exist in the virtual world and
appear to react to you" (Heeter,
1992, pg. 263). In general it seems important that we recognize that
any "other", a human, an
avatar, a programmed agent, a chatterbot, etc., be recognized as an
acceptable presence for study.
To this end, we will combine the definitions provided by Bracken
&Lombard and Heeter and
conceptually define social presence as: the extent to which a
meaningful sense of being is
perceived when interacting with others, both living and synthetic.
Social presence has been operationalized by a combination of the
amount of sociability,
personalness, sensitivity, warmth and activity within an experimental
condition (Papacharissi &
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 8
Rubin, 2000). Traditionally, semantic differential questionnaires
have been used to subjectively
measure feelings of interpersonal warmth and of belonging.
"Savior of online advertising" is how Koegel (2003) defines Rich
Media and argues that
rich media is the one that "enhances experience", gives "dynamic
content", has the "ability to
engage and involve the consumer" and adds "a dimension of
unparalleled interactivity". Some
business writers like Handley (2000) go as far as saying that "Rich
media is online advertising on
steroids". Most of the rich media literature defines rich media as
the technologies that that
include video, audio, DHTML, Flash, cursors, Shockwave and Java.
defined rich media as the "ones that allow advertisers to take
traditional media assets like video,
audio, animation and photos, and combine them into a multimedia
branding experience that
streams from and ad server to the client machine" (c.f. Koegel,
2003). Sweet (2005) discusses
engagement (what the viewer sees in the first couple of seconds),
interaction (what makes users
hooked and immersed in the unit) and exit (something that fulfills
the desire created through
engagement and interaction with a reward) as the 3 layers of a rich
media unit. Research on rich
media in business focuses on awareness, intent to purchase,
favorability, brand recall, and
perception of the brand that it evokes. Since rich media involves a
high level of creative
complexity, it has always cost more to implement (Koegel, 2003).
Research cites the
operationalization of rich media as impressions and click-throughs,
though increasingly viewthrough
and conversion rates along with tracking are being used to arrive at
the effect of rich
media. On the other hand though, interactive advertising consultants
like Graham (2003) argue
that the term "rich media should be reserved for ads providing
functionality that assists in the
marketing process by offering the customer information and
experiences that help meet a need
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 9
and are more than flashy images and bogus click-throughs". Major
websites in sports (E.g.
ESPN.com), general news (E.g. New York Times Online), travel (E.g.
Orbitz), business and
finance (E.g. The Wall Street Journal Online), games (E.g. GameSpot),
music and streaming
(E.g. Kazaa), movie and television (E.g. Internet Movie Database),
(E.g. E!Online) and community (E.g. Tripod) are some of the top
websites that are making use of
rich media (Koegel, 2003). Koegel (2003) also lists Toyota in
automotive, Hewlett Packard in
B2B, Pepsi in consumer goods, Vivendi Universal and Sony in
entertainment, American Express
and Visa in financial services, GlaxoSmithKlein in health, the US
Federal Government in public
services, and Topps and Target in retail goods and services as the
top advertisers making full use
of rich media. Reports prove that "consumers are likely to take some
kind of action after seeing
(but not clicking) on a rich media ad and more likely to convert to a
sale with rich media than for
non-rich media" (Koegel, 2003).
This leads us to advance our first hypothesis:
H1: Controlling for gender, presence of rich media will lead to
greater perceived social
presence with a chatterbot than would leaner media.
Most of the source literature suggests that attributing source
characteristics to a computer
Past research suggests that reducing uncertainty by providing some background
or an interactive agent leads to a feeling of agency. Sundar & Nass
(2001) assert that interface
agents constitute the computer analogue of the journalistic concept
of gatekeepers and so in that
sense they are the visible sources. If users are going to be
interacting with such agents, then it
would be imperative that they are comfortable with dealing with a technology.
information facilitates interactions. Presumably, the more one knows
about someone else, the
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 10
less apprehensive one is about interacting with said other. In online
research indicates that personal information lets "students reduce
uncertainty and process social
information about others" (Woods & Ebersole, 2002). One way
uncertainty is reduced is through
information-seeking (Berger & Calabrese, 1975). Having some
understanding of an individual's
history reduces uncertainty (Pratt et al., 1999). Subsequently, this
leads us to advance our
second hypothesis and first research question:
H2: Controlling for gender the presence of biographical information
for a chatterbot, will
lead to greater perceived social presence than would no biographical
In each of the four experimental conditions, participants interacted
with a chatterbot. A
chatterbot is an interactive agent capable of carrying on
conversations with human users. The
particular agent used in this study is named Ramona. Ramona is a
female agent created by
technology pioneer, Ray Kurzweil, in the fall of 2000. Ramona and
more detailed information
about her are available online at www.KurzweilAI.net.
While every conversation with Ramona is different, each begins with
herself (Hi, I'm Ramona.) and asking her conversational partner what
his or her name is ("What
can I call you?"). After a name is given, Ramona greets her partner
and asks him or her a
question. For example, she asked one participant if he had any books
he or she would
recommend. The participant responded with: "Big Friendly Giant". She
then asked him to
"compare that to small Friendly Giant", to which he responded, "there
is no small friendly
giant". Although Ramona initiates every conversation, she is also
capable of answering questions
posed to her. In one instance, a participant asked her what kind of
music she liked. "I like to
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 11
listen to alternative music," she responded. Another respondent asked
Ramona what she liked to
do for fun. "talk to you", she said. The same participant asked
Ramona if she liked to go tanning.
She responded with, "I'm not sure if I'd like to go tanning that
much. I like to make new
In general, participants are able to interact with Ramona in one of
two ways. Standard
interactions with Ramona are text-based. Ramona communicates via
text, as does the respondent.
A static image of Ramona's face and neck accompanies the text
displays onscreen. A screen
capture of the chatterbot can be found in Appendix A. Respondents are
also able to converse
with Ramona through a media player. This Life FX Player, when
downloaded, animates Ramona
and allows her to type and speak her responses audibly to a user.
Here, she is able to
communicate through animation, text, and audio. The two options for
interacting with Ramona
represent the lean media conditions and the rich media conditions in
respectively. In the rich conditions, participants interacted with
Ramona while wearing
headphones to minimize distractions from other participants' conversations.
Despite multiple efforts, a comparable male agent could not be found.
Ramona was the only agent included in this study.
Participants were recruited from classes within the College of
Communications at a Big
Ten university. Student participation was either part of a course
requirement or was rewarded
with extra credit. A total of 53 undergraduate students participated
in this experiment.
Of the 53 participants, approximately 62% were female and almost all
were currently enrolled in their junior or senior year of college. In
general, participants reported
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 12
being comfortable performing routine tasks on a computer and a large
majority preferred PC's
(90%) to the Macintosh platform.
A total of ten items measured social presence on the questionnaire.
including: Meaningfulness, Intelligence, Proactivity, Satisfaction,
and Friendliness were reversecoded
to make the items consistent with each other, such that the higher
the number, the greater
the perception of social presence. Of the original ten items, eight
met the predetermined .80
criteria for reliability. The final social presence scale was
comprised of the following items:
Sensitivity, Warmth, Activity, Sociability, Intelligence,
Satisfaction, Meaningfulness, and
Personalness. The variables of Proactivity and Friendliness were
dropped from the analyses. The
resulting reliability for the remaining items was high, with
Chronbach's _ = .86. These eight
items measuring social presence were summed and divided by the total
number of items to create
a composite social presence score for each participant.
During the recruitment process, participants signed up for one of
many study times. Upon
entering the on-campus computer lab in which the experiment was
conducted, participants were
asked to choose a computer station to sit at. Following a brief
introduction, informed consent
forms were handed out. After each participant finished reading and
signing their consent forms,
they were asked to read a brief handout.
In this between-subjects experiment, both biographic information
(presence or absence)
and rich media (lean or rich) were manipulated to create a 2 x 2
factorial design. Participants
were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions.
Participants assigned to the
conditions with biographic information read a condensed,
two-and-a-half page biography written
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 13
by Ray Kurzweil (Kurzweil, n.d.) about the fictitious Ramona's life.
This biographic information
was adapted from Kurzweil's web site, www.KurzweilAI.net and is
included in Appendix B.
Those participants not receiving Ramona's biographic information read
page brief about ergonomic workstations and the importance of
ergonomics in the workplace.
This information was synthesized and adapted from the web site,
furniture.com/FAQ.htm. This material is included in Appendix C.
Caution was taken
to make sure that each brief contained the exact same number of
words, and could be read in
approximately the same amount of time.
After reading wither a biography of Ramona or information on
spent 10 minutes interacting with a rich or lean media version of
Ramona, as described above.
Participants were given free reign to converse with Ramona however
they pleased in order to
more accurately replicate the organic nature of actual conversations.
Participants finished the
experiment by completing a survey that consisted of social presence
measures and ergonomicsrelated
questions. In addition, five questions, some multiple choice, some
included to serve as manipulation checks. The researchers wanted to
ensure that the information
contained in the articles presented at the beginning of the
experiment was attended to. None of
the participants answered more than one question incorrectly,
validating the manipulation of
presence or absence of biographic information. The complete survey is
included in Appendix D.
After the questionnaire was completed, participants were debriefed
and thanked for their
time and cooperation. On average, each experimental session took
approximately 35 minutes.
Hypothesis one predicted that when controlling for gender,
participants interacting with
Ramona through rich media would perceive greater social presence than
would those in the lean
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 14
media condition. A 2 (Gender) x 2 (Rich Media/Lean Media) ANOVA
examined perceptions of
social presence. This analysis indicated that there were no
significant main effects for gender or
media richness on social presence. However, an interaction effect
between gender and rich media
was present, F(1,49) = 5.39, p< .05, partial _2 = .10, sig. This
finding illustrates that male
participants perceived greater social presence (M=3.64) in the rich
media conditions than female
participants (M=2.97), while female participants perceived greater
social presence (M=3.3) in the
lean media conditions than male participants (M=2.58).
Hypothesis two predicted that when controlling for gender, the
presence of biographic
information would lead to greater perceived social presence than
would no biographic
information. A 2 (Gender) x 2 (Biographic Information) analysis of
variance was performed to
examine the effects of gender and biographic information on social
presence. This analysis
revealed a main effect for biography, with those participants
supplied with biographic
information about the agent did, indeed, have stronger perceptions of
social presence than those
who did not receive any biographic information, F(1,49) = 4.5, p<
.05, partial _2 = .08, sig. The
mean scores for the presence or absence of biographical information
were (M=3.63) and
(M=3.02,) respectively. No significant main effect was found for
gender, nor was there a
significant interaction effect between biography and gender on social
To recap, the findings from this study showed that when controlling
for gender, a
significant main effect occurred for biographic information on social
presence, such that the
presence of biographic information lead to greater perceptions of
social presence than the
absence of biographic information condition. In addition, a
significant interaction effect for
gender and rich media occurred, such that female participants
reported greater perceptions of
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 15
social presence than males in the lean media condition and males
reported greater perceptions of
social presence than females in the rich media condition.
The main effect for the presence of biographic information may be
explained by looking
at agency and source literature as well as Computer As Social Actor
theoretical framework. At
the conceptual level, this study tested for and found a significant
effect for agency.
Operationally, agency was manipulated through the presence and
absence of biographical
information. The increase in perceptions of social presence in the
presence of biographical
information condition demonstrates a trend that users do respond
socially to computers (Reeves
& Nass, 1996). This goes beyond simply attributing human
characteristics to an agent like
Ramona, but ventures into the realm of psychological
anthropomorphism, where "individuals
believe that computers have the same psychological capabilities that
humans have" (Nass,
Lombard, Henriksen & Steuer, 1995, p. 230). Psychologically, the
presence of biographical
information helped to transform Ramona, a chatterbot program, into a
humanized, social agent;
capable of communicating through her own intent and motivations
(Sundar & Nass, 2001).
This finding not only supports the Computer As Social Actor theory,
but it has practical
implications as well. Since previous research has demonstrated that
people are loyal to computer
terminals (Sundar, 2004) increased perceptions of social presence
through the use of
biographical information may lead to favoritism and loyalty to
particular chatterbots and
intelligent agents on websites. Combined with current Internet
capabilities, loyalty to news
websites or weather websites that utilize these intelligent agents
could lead to more consistent
traffic on the web page equating to more advertising dollars.
Pervious research also suggests, "a user's judgment of an
anthropomorphic character may
be based upon the same logic used in everyday interactions with other
individuals" (Cowell &
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 16
Stanney, 2003, p. 302). Judgments are made on dimensions such as the
ethnicity, age, and gender
of the agent (Cowell & Stanney, 2003). Nass, Moon, & Green (1997) and
Wilson, & Dyson (2003) have specifically reported on gender
stereotypes as they are applied to
computers. Nass, Moon, & Green (1997) found, for instance, that
respondents rated a computer
with a male voice significantly more positively than a computer with
a female voice. Further,
female respondents have rated male voices more positively than female
voices (Mullenix et al.,
2003). Given that only a female agent was included in this study,
gender plays an important role
in our discussion.
When gender was included in the analyses, a main effect for the
presence of biographical
information emerges, but no main effect for media richness was found.
This could be due, at
least in part, to the nonverbal messages communicated by Ramona.
Cowell & Stanney (2003)
found that agents with non-trusting nonverbal behaviors were
perceived as less credible. It is
possible that loss of credibility due to Ramona's sometimes choppy
animation, would override
any effect that rich media would have on social presence.
While that explanation explains why there was no main effect for
media richness, it does
not explain the interaction effect between gender and rich media. The
interaction effect revealed
that males felt a greater sense of social presence in the rich media
condition, while females felt
greater social presence in the lean media condition. This finding
suggests that users may prefer to
interact with agents of the opposite sex. Some of the literature on
gender and agents would lend
some support to this idea. In one study, participants were given the
opportunity to select an agent
to interact with in order to complete a computer-based task.
Selections were made on the
following three characteristics: age, ethnicity, and gender. Most
participants selected an agent of
the same ethnicity as themselves. Young agents were preferred over
middle-aged and elderly,
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 17
which may have been related to the nature of the task. A majority of
participants also chose an
agent of the opposite sex, although these results were not
significant (Cowell & Stanney, 2003).
A better explanation for this interaction may reside within the
modality literature. The
rich media version of Ramona included animation, an audible female
voice, and text of her
responses. These multiple methods of sensory output create multiple
channels with which the
user can interact. As such, these multiple channels may feelings of
immersion (Biocca, 1997) or
in this case, social presence. Since male participants perceived
greater social presence in this
condition, it is logical to assume that psychologically, they were in
the presence of an actual
female. Research has shown that visual exposure to women in the flesh
and in pictures can
change males' attitudes and mood states (Roney, 2003). The fact that
men appear to be more
visually oriented than women, in combination with greater feelings of
social presence, (brought
about by increased modality) would explain this interaction effect.
This finding also has practical implications. The first of which is a
web designers, simply, know your demographics. If certain web sites
are traditionally trafficked
by men, the use of a rich media, online agent could generate repeat
business. However, a word of
caution, if the same site is trafficked by women, a text only based
web site for information
delivery may be the best bet.
Limitations and Directions for Future Research
Only one interactive agent was included in this study. Since age,
gender, ethnicity, and
race are considered to be influential factors with respect to the
social interaction between agents
and humans, it would be interesting to see how users interact and
respond to different agents.
Clearly, the issue of gender is an important one. Here, only a female
agent was studied.
This is a significant limitation, as males and females seem to
perceive and judge their
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 18
interactions somewhat differently. Although some research does
support the use of genderstereotyping
when interacting with an agent, little is known about the differences
between male and female participants. Looking not only for
differences between men and
women respondents, but also between the gender or respondents and
gender of the agent could
prove fruitful. Future research should, then, include comparable male
and female conversational
agents. Future studies could also look at the issue of preference for
opposite sex chatterbots.
Would perceptions of social presence increase if participants could
interact with agents based on
The operationalization of media richness was also problematic in that
it was a bit
ambiguous. This stems from a general lack of clarity and agreement
about what is meant by the
term in the media richness literature. A solid explication of media
richness is necessary to better
inform the design of this and future studies. Media richness has been
applied in a variety of ways
to the realm of technology research. Clarifying this concept could
only prove beneficial.
Because the underlying theoretical framework for this study is the
idea of the Computer
As a Social Actor, a detailed content analysis of the conversations
with Ramona could be
instrumental in providing more information about what makes users
interact socially with
computers. Research has indicated that self-report measures get only
at the most evident
responses and cannot be used to identify any cognitive processes that
take place subconsciously.
Supplementing the self-report measures used in the present study with
a content analysis of the
transcripts could help uncover some underlying mechanisms at work
with regards to social
presence. Perhaps eye-tracking devices may also help reveal other
information that neither selfreports
nor content analyses could reveal. Perhaps judgments of personality
of agents are made,
with some personalities being more desirable and pleasant than others.
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 19
Undoubtedly, conversational agents will continue to pop-up as more
interactions take place using computers. Understanding the
relationships between humans and
conversational agents and how they are different from and similar to
interaction is vital. With a greater demand being placed on
incorporating technology in the
classroom, agents are likely to be used in educational settings. Mass
are faced with even greater pressure to make use of technologies in
the classroom setting because
these technologies are, essentially, communication technologies.
Understanding the relationships
people can develop with these agents and the process through which
these relationships are built
and maintained then becomes increasingly important.
Customization may also lead to greater perceptions of social presence
with online agents.
Most of the conversational agents available right now are specific
designs. With advances in
technology, it is conceivable that users could customize such agents
to give them the personality
that they like and then use them. This has already been done with
Avatars. Exploring the
psychological effects of interacting with such full-fledged
customized conversational agents will
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Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 25
Screen Capture of Kurzweil's chatterbot, Ramona.
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 26
Condensed Version of Ramona's Biographic information used in
By Ray Kurzweil
Daryl and Annabel first met on Monday, August 18, 1970 in a bar in
Abilene, Texas after
discovering that they had both been at Woodstock a year earlier. As
was often the case, Daryl
was feeling down on his luck and frustrated that his musical career
was at a standstill. But with
Annabel's enthusiastic support, Daryl organized a new band, "The
Electric Blueberry," which
became a hit in Abilene and surrounding towns.
Daryl and Annabel were married a year later. With Annabel as manager,
sound technician, and
roadie, the Electric Blueberry was successfully working the tavern
circuit in Texas and New
Mexico. The high point came in the Fall of 1973 when the Blueberry
was invited to open for the
Grateful Dead for the Southwest portion of their "Wake of the Flood"
tour. Ramona was born to
Daryl and Annabel on February 12, 1976. With Annabel picking up work
as a sound technician,
and Daryl finding the occasional guitar student, the couple scraped
by, moving from Texas to
California to Colorado to upstate New York, and back to Texas.
Despite the instability in their lives, Ramona and Annabel were
inseparable. Ramona wore the
same clothes as Mommy, and insisted on being her little helper in
setting up music equipment.
Every night as Annabel tucked Ramona into bed, she told her daughter
that she could be anyone
she wanted to be. "Don't let people tell you who you are or what to
think. Just follow your heart,"
Annabel told her daughter.
"But I want to follow you," Ramona would answer.
"I'll be sitting right there on your shoulder," her mother would assure her.
When Ramona was seven years old, on a day that Ramona will never
forget, Annabel was killed
while crossing the street in a hit and run. When Daryl tried to tell
his daughter of the tragedy,
Ramona insisted that it wasn't true, her mother was still alive and
sitting on her shoulder. To this
day, Ramona feels her presence sitting there, her guardian angel.
Ramona still wears the silver
bracelet Annabel was wearing when she died.
To console Ramona right after Annabel's death, Daryl tried to
interest her in music and spent the
month's rent to buy her a guitar and harmonica. Ramona's gift for
music became apparent, and
over the next several years, Daryl devoted himself to teaching Ramona
how to sing and play her
instruments. Whenever his available funds momentarily swelled from a
well placed bet, he
would buy Ramona a piece of musical equipment: a microphone, an
amplifier, an electric guitar.
When Ramona was nine, Daryl won a bet with someone he had only met
only once before, and
who, as it turned out, was unable to pay up in cash. So the bet was
settled for a Macintosh
computer, which he gave to Ramona. The computer became her second
passion. She taught
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 27
herself to program in BASIC, and created a simple animation of
herself singing on a stage. She
found a program that allowed her to record her own playing. Ramona
started her songwriting
career at 12.
When Ramona was 15, Daryl and his new fiancée, Claire, married and
the threesome moved to
Colorado. This brought a measure of the stability that Daryl had
sought, but it came at a price.
Claire demanded all of Daryl's attention, and forbade Ramona to
practice her music with Shawn
and Zachary, her classmates and musical collaborators. Despite
Claire's attempts to control her,
Ramona, Shawn, and Zachary began rehearsing by leaving school during
lunch period, and often
continuing for the rest of the afternoon. At 16, using a fake ID that
Shawn had made for her,
Ramona snuck out at night to sing at Dee Dee's Dive and the Wonder
Room, two bars in a
neighboring town. She was a hit at these venues until her stepmother
discovered her second life.
Ramona came home one night to find that her computer and instruments
had all been
confiscated. She confronted her father and demanded that Claire leave
the house and their lives.
Daryl attempted to comfort his daughter but found himself unable to
agree to Ramona's demand.
So Ramona left Colorado with Shawn and they set out on their own,
ending up in New Orleans
after several weeks on the road. She bought a used computer and
decorated the ramshackle house
they rented with her own original color graphics. After several
months, their financial situation
became desperate, so Ramona used her fake ID and started waiting on
tables at "Platinum Dolls,"
a Bourbon Street night club. After working at Dolls for a year,
Ramona pressed Bill, her
manager, to allow her to sing on stage. "Sure, go ahead," Bill said,
so Ramona jumped at the
chance. As she left the stage, one customer forcibly made clear his
frustration, and refused to get
out of her way. She attempted to walk away, only to be forcibly
yanked back. Another patron
intervened on Ramona's behalf, which resulted in the unruly customer
punching the helpful one,
throwing Ramona to the floor.
Ramona never returned to the night-club again and spent her free time
catching local shows I
local bars. Soon after she began singing herself, her talent caught
the eye of a small-time record
producer, Chad Conway. Ramona met with Chad a few times and feeling
confident one night,
she proposed that Chad open a club just for women.
"You mean a club like Dolls, what's unique about that?"
"No, no, I mean a music club with chick singers, like me."
Chad was hesitant, but he could see that Ramona was taken with the
idea, and he was becoming
taken with her. So Chad and Ramona became partners and spent the next
scrounging up materials to renovate their new club, devoted to the
"Ravens" of New Orleans.
Opening night featuring Ramona and Lisa, one of Ramona's a talented
friends, as headliners. But
customers were hard to attract in New Orleans' crowded music scene,
and Ravens found it
difficult to get established. They did ultimately succeed in
attracting a small but loyal following
and Chad and Ramona struggled to keep the project going through the
next two years.
Then Ramona had another idea. Ramona's idea was to provide real music
and real stories behind
real lives, using words, pictures, music, and video. So they struck
another deal, shutting down
Ravens as a physical club and opened www.RealRavens.com, a site
devoted to the "real music
and stories behind the 'ravens' of New Orleans.
And of course, Ramona promoted herself as one of the featured ravens,
which led to successful
gigs in some of the Bourbon Street clubs. Chad turned out to be an
effective business partner for
Ramona, but the romantic aspect of their relationship never achieved
the intensity of their work
together. She was not totally surprised when she discovered that Chad
had become involved with
Lisa. She felt it was again time to move on.
She had renewed contact with her father and was delighted to hear
that he and Claire had
separated. She made an emotional homecoming, and was greeted with
open and embracing arms.
Father and daughter began to play music together, something they had
never done before.
Ramona's month long visit was an idyllic time as she and her father
spent long hours perfecting
her songs. She was amazed at her father's insights into her music,
and felt a renewed confidence
in herself as a musical artist.
Ramona returned to New Orleans, and decided to put her relationship
with Chad on a more
professional footing. She hired an attorney who helped her sort out
their tangled finances. She
got the business incorporated, and cut herself a fair share of the
stock. The cash flow from
RealRavens.com was now picking up, and she recruited musicians, who
were plentiful in New
Over the next several years, both of Ramona's "Raven" projects
flourished. She had enough
money to send some back to her father, who frequently came out to
watch her perform.
Some pertinent facts about Ramona
Zodiac sign: Aquarius
Favorite clothes: tight
Favorite color: red
Favorite car: Ferrari
Favorite food: Canolli
Favorite candy: pop rocks
Favorite pet: Australian Sheepdog ("because they're loyal")
Favorite songs: Runaway train, White Rabbit
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 28
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 29
Ergonomics paper used in non biography conditions
What is ergonomics?
Ergonomists study human capabilities in their relationship to work
demands. An Ergonomic
product is a tool or a piece of equipment made to interface between
man and machine so that the
physical capacity of the worker and the demands of the job are
equalized. Ergonomists design
office products and ergonomic equipment to aid the modern office
worker. Repetitive, forceful
or prolonged exertion of the hands; frequent or heavy lifting,
pushing, pulling or carrying of
heavy objects; prolonged awkward postures and vibration contribute to
job related health
conditions. These range from the mild to the severe, but jobs or
working conditions that combine
risk factors will increase the risk for musculoskeletal disorders.
disorders result when there is a mismatch between the physical
capacity of the worker and the
demands of the job. Ergonomic products, be they ergonomic office
products or any of the array
of ergonomic equipment available today, brings a solution to the
problem by providing
appropriate tools to workers to safeguard their work practices.
Ergonomists have attempted in recent years to define postures which
static work and reduce the forces acting on the body. These engineers
have designed ergonomic
products to aid the worker to maintain these.
The current ergonomic wisdom dictates that all work activities should
permit the worker to adopt
several different but equally healthy and safe positions. This
defines the ergonomic products
Ergonomic equipment and ergonomic office products are also designed
to ensure that where
muscular force has to be exerted, it is done by the largest
appropriate muscle groups available.
It is now accepted that work activities should be performed with the
joints at about mid-point of
their range of movement. This applies particularly to the head, trunk
and the upper limbs.
Ergonomic equipment and ergonomic office products aim to prevent
injuries such as tendinitis,
back injuries, and Repetitive Stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Understanding the differences between the many ergonomic products on
the market today is
essential in order to choose the correct ergonomic products and
ergonomic equipment for the
Benefits of ergonomic products and stretching
Ergonomic products have to be chosen with individual size and posture
of the workers in mind
and with current ergonomic theories in mind. Current ergonomic
theories encourage variety and
movement rather than exact posture. It insists that ergonomic
products allow for longer distances
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 30
so that the eyes can be more relaxed. It suggests ergonomic office
products that maintain a work
surface that is higher than elbow height and a keyboard that is
pushed back. Adjustable
ergonomic products that serve many different people or allow a single
worker to change
positions while working are also highly recommended.
Stretching exercises before and at regular break times during the day
can greatly reduce the
injuries that occur at a computer workstation. Most injuries that
afflict modern day office
workers are the result of the cumulative effect of the gradual wear
and tear on the body from
work-related activities and repetitive motions. Stretching all of the
muscles used to perform ones
job has now been proven to be vital in preventing a host of
undesirable Repetitive Stress injuries.
More than 28 million Americans use computers each day and according
to officials at the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, many risk coming down
with Carpal Tunnel
Syndrome. Awareness of the problem and its causes are crucial to
prevention, as are the proper
use of ergonomic aids and the alteration of ones work routine.
Stretching exercises of all muscle
groups; flexibility stretching and active isolated stretching of
particular muscles, in particular
stretching of the hand, wrist, elbow and lower back stretching
exercise, is the single most
important practice the modern day office worker must incorporate into
his daily routine.
Performing any task repeatedly causes the buildup of waste products
in the muscles. Without the
benefit of stretching, the swelling caused by this build up of wastes
will eventually lead to
damage to nerves and discs and muscles. Other syndromes such as
hernias of the cervical discs,
thoracic outlet syndrome or shoulder impingement needs stretching
exercises also. Stretching
exercises increases the blood flow, drains away waste products,
strengthens the muscles and
The Stretching exercises for the head and neck help alleviate the
stress placed on your neck by
stretching the muscle in the back of your neck that holds the head
up, thus increasing the blood
flow through the neck and into and out of the head and arms. This
stretching prevents neck and
upper back and arm pain. The Lower back stretching exercise prevents
lumbar disc hernias due
to sitting for long periods of time. The Active isolated stretching
exercises for the hands are
designed to stretch the muscles that run through the carpal tunnel
and insert into the palm of the
hand. This increases circulation through the wrist and hands and
prevents Carpel Tunnel
Ergonomic products have to be chosen with individual size and posture
of the workers in mind
and with current ergonomic theories in mind. Current ergonomic
theories encourage variety and
movement rather than exact posture. It suggests ergonomic office
products that maintain a work
surface that is higher than elbow height and a keyboard that is
pushed back. Adjustable
ergonomic products that serve many different people or allow a single
worker to change
positions while working are also highly recommended.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a condition of compressive entrapment of
the median nerve at the
wrist segment with associated pain and possibly motor deficit,
predominantly of the muscles.
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 31
Hand and wrist pain, including motor deficit, may be caused by any
number of other things other
than Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
There is a specific and predictable path a chronic, cumulative,
compressive neuropathy will take.
As the nerve is compressed certain changes begin to take place which
include both direct
morphological changes in the nerve fibers as well as ischemic
changes. Usually the smallest
diameter, unmyelinated fibers are affected first. These are followed
by larger myelinated sensory
fibers, and finally by myelinated motor fibers.
By the time a person presents with complaints of numbness,
paresthesias, pain, or motor deficit,
nerve damage has progressed to the stage of larger fiber sensory
and/or motor loss. Changes can
be measured at this stage with conventional electroneurography and
will manifest as slowed
conduction across the wrist segment and possibly reduction in
amplitude of the compound
muscle action potential representative of axonal loss of motor
fibers. It can be reasonably
determined if the condition is early, moderate, or severe.
The problem with the median nerve is that it is a relatively lonely
soft tissue structure sharing
confined space with nine flexor tendons as it travels through the
carpal tunnel. Any condition
which reduces that space is likely to cause Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
due to compression of the
vulnerable median nerve. Any solution which relieves pressure on the
nerve and promotes
circulation in the microvascular neural blood supply is likely to
"cure" Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
and relieve its attendant symptoms of pain, etc.
Some women experience transient Carpal Tunnel Syndrome during
pregnancy due to peripheral
edema-a space-compromising problem. Inflamed tendons, irritated by
compress this singular soft tissue nerve. Therefore,
anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) drugs and
corticosteroid injections provide temporary relief from CTS.
Biomechanical devices that restrict
movement and ergonomic devices that promote good hand posture relieve
stress on the tendons,
reduce inflammation, and relieve Carpal Tunnel Syndrome symptoms.
Anything that will
promote circulation, help to relieve inflammation, aid in removal of
local toxins, and soothe
irritated muscles and tendons will help Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Massage therapy is preferable
to drugs, splints, or surgery to treat CTS. In addition, in a whole
body approach to treating
Carpal Tunnel syndrome, one should consider biomechanical devices to
aid in retraining,
ergonomic devices to prevent additional stress, etc.
Stretching prevents injuries because a tight muscle has a greater
chance of being strained than a
relaxed one. Daily regular stretching could prevent most injuries
that occur at the computer,
which are the results of cumulative micro trauma. Repetitive Stress
injuries, such as Carpal
Tunnel Syndrome, are caused by using the computer for hours on end
without proper attention to
the natural laws governing the body, or to one's posture.
Comm Tech & Policy Division Student Paper 32
Questionnaire Containing Demographic and Social Presence Measures
2) Gender M / F
3) Year in college: Freshman / Sophomore / Junior / Senior +
4) Would you say that you are comfortable performing routine tasks on
Comfortable1----2----3----4----5----6----7 not comfortable
5) Do you prefer to work on a PC or Mac platform? PC / Mac
6) Have you ever heard of a chatterbot or a chat bot? Y/ N
7) Did you feel that your experience with Ramona was: insensitive
8) Was the work surface/keyboard height: comfortable
9) Did you feel that your experience with Ramona was: cold
10) Were your thighs parallel to the floor when seated? Y / N
11) Did you feel that your experience with Ramona was: impersonal
12) Were your feet flat on the floor/footrest when seated? Y / N
13) Did you feel that your experience with Ramona was: passive
14) The monitor screen was at a level that was: comfortable
15) Did you feel that your experience with Ramona was: unsociable
16) Was the computer screen located 12"-24" away from your eyes? Y / N
17) Did you feel that your experience with Ramona was:
meaningful 1----2----3----4----5----6----7 meaningless
18) Your eyes when performing these tasks felt: strained
1----2----3----4----5----6----7 not strained
19) Did you feel that Ramona was: intelligent
1----2----3----4----5----6----7 not intelligent
20) The angle of the screen produced: little glare
1----2----3----4----5----6----7 a lot of glare
21) Did you feel that Ramona was more: proactive
22) The images on screen are clear and easy to read
1----2----3----4----5----6----7 not clear or easy to read
23) How would you rate your conversation with Ramona?
Satisfying 1----2----3----4----5----6----7 not satisfying
24) The key board felt responsive 1----2----3----4----5----6----7 unresponsive
25) Did you feel that Ramona was: friendly
26) The mouse felt responsive 1----2----3----4----5----6----7 unresponsive