Theoretical model of differential social attributions toward computing technology: when the metaphor becomes the model

  • Marakas G
  • Johnson R
  • Palmer J
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Abstract

This paper explores the use of metaphorical personification (anthropomorphism) as an aid to describing and understanding the complexities of computing technologies. This common and seemingly intuitive practice (it 'reads', 'writes', 'thinks', 'is friendly', 'catches and transmits viruses', etc.) has become the standard by which we formulate our daily communications, and often our formal training mechanisms, with regard to the technology. Both anecdotal and empirical sources have reported numerous scenarios in which computers have played a noticeably social role, thus being positioned more as a social actor than as a machine or 'neutral tool'. In these accounts, human behavior has ranged from making social reference to the device ('It's really much smarter than me,'), to more overt social interactions including conversational interplay and display of common human emotions in response to an interaction. Drawing from behavioral psychology and attribution theory, a theoretical model of the phenomenon is offered from which several propositions are advanced regarding the nature of the behavior, positive and negative implications associated with extended use of this metaphor, and recommendations for research into this ubiquitous social phenomena.

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Authors

  • George M. Marakas

  • Richard D. Johnson

  • Jonathan W. Palmer

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