In their book "The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television and New Media Like Real People and Places," Stanford University researchers Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass conclude that people relate to their machines -- from home computers to TV sets, much in the same way they relate to people.
For example, they observed that when a software program greets the user with a smile, the person will smile and say "hello" back.
Computers are designed with a sense of etiquette: and people return the courtesy, responding politely to the computers they use. They will plead with them not to crash, or to release a stuck disk.
They also respond to flattery. In one study cited by Drs. Nass and Reeves, two groups of people were tested. The ones who were flattered by the machine said they "liked" the computer more than the ones in the other group.
"People have done some amazing things in our labs," they wrote in "Media Equation." "They have taken great care not to make a computer feel bad ... It eventually occurred to us that people were not doing these things because they needed a metaphor. We had to acknowledge that these responses were fundamentally human, and we had to acknowledge that they were important."
Adrian McCoy can be reached at 412-263-1865 or firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published March 22, 2009 4:00 AM