Improving Communications in Computer Mediated Environments for Humanitarian Websites

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Distinguishing the difference between persuasive and binding communication

Although persuasive communication is used in the context of binding communications strategies, the two forms of communication are distinctively different. Persuasive communication makes an attempt to change a person’s belief or attitude, which consequently results in a behavioral change. On the other hand, binding communication attempts to change a behavior which results in a subsequent behavioral change. Gass & Seiter (1999) explain the concepts: Persuasion, an umbrella term, is concerned with changing beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, and behaviors. The term compliance [binding communication] is more restrictive, typically referring to changes in a person’s overt behavior.

Social visibility/public nature

Social norms have been developed around the fact that people like to be recognized for what they do. Past studies have shown that commitments are reinforced when the subject is aware that they will be publicly recognized for their action (Fisher & Ackerman, 1998). A basic example of this phenomenon can be extracted from Keisler’s publication “The psychology of commitment” (1971); in one experiment the degree of commitment fluctuated between high and low by varying the future use of a recorded speech produced by the experimental subjects. In order to create a high commitment condition, the experimenters informed the subjects that their recorded speech would be used in a nationwide study on regional dialects, and that they would be recognized publicly. For the low commitment condition the subjects were told that their speech would be a part of a nationwide study; however, that they would remain anonymous. This small variation in the public nature of the task manipulated the level of commitment on behalf of the experimental subjects. Clearly, when we are aware that our presentation will receive public recognition, we strive to make the presentation as praiseworthy as possible. On the contrary, when we are aware that are presentation will remain anonymous and that we will not be publicly recognized for the work; the degree of commitment is diminished. Although the subject may invest the necessary time and energy to complete the task, if it is not to be presented publicly, it is less likely that the subject will go beyond expectations in order to make the presentation the best that it can be. Although this phenomenon of public recognition has become a social norm; it seems as if it also stipulates ethical and moral values. The quote by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. says that “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.” However, if people’s behavior changes when they are publicly recognized or anonymous; we esteem that their self perception is jeopardized when the pressure of public recognition is present. That is to say, when a person acts in privacy there is no pressure put upon them and their self perception is not put into question. On the contrary, when they are aware that they will receive public criticism, the subjects attempt to project a positive self image in order to protect their image in the eyes of the public. Additionally, their behavior may change in order to remain consistent with their own self perception, which may be contrasted to their veritable character or what they do when they think no one is looking. “Charities often devise fund-raising strategies that exploit natural human competitiveness in combination with the desire for public recognition” (Duffy & Kornienko, 2010). This provides excellent opportunities for humanitarian organizations to motivate public participation through the use of public recognition. For example, organizations can develop promotional material that is displayed publicly i.e. hats, T-shirts, bumper stickers, pins, etc… Hypothetically, in the paradigm of binding communications, the act of publicly displaying a humanitarian bumper sticker on the back of one’s car would reinforce the automobile owner’s attitude in support of humanitarian actions, thus passing by action to incite a change in attitude. Public recognition in itself is a form of reciprocity. Many people participate in humanitarian action events at the local level, not only because they want to help out a good cause, but also for personal gratification which is amplified through public recognition. In 1981, researchers from Arizona State University (Baumann, Cialdini & Kendrick), took the position that adult truism is a form of hedonism: In this view, benevolent activity has been conditioned via the socialization process to be self gratifying; therefore, individuals often behave charitably in order to provide themselves with reward.

The importance of the act for the subject

The degree of commitment is also influenced by the importance of the action for the subject. This is one reason why it is important for humanitarian organizations to create actions that meet the interests of their targeted audiences. For example, by soliciting the participation of local inhabitants for a humanitarian action to help the community; the action is more likely to be attributed a higher level of importance by the targeted audience in comparison to an international action because it has a direct impact on the local community. A clear example of this conflict of interest can be found in Part four of this dissertation, where participation for international action was very low and subjects argued in support of the need for local humanitarian initiatives. As a result, local humanitarian initiatives often receive more support from the local community in comparison to humanitarian actions that do not directly impact the actual supporters. By understanding the targeted audiences’ general interests, organizations are able to draft their messages in ways that appeal to their targeted audiences. The more important the act is for the subject, the higher the degree of commitment and vice versa. In the field of binding communications, very little empirical research has been conducted on evaluating the role of the importance of the action to the subject in relation to the degree of commitment. Future evaluations could use field analyses comparing the percentage of commitments made for local and international humanitarian actions in order to assess the relationship between: geographic location, degree of importance, and ratio of commitment. Iyengar & Brockner (1997) provide a reflection on traditional methods of studying influence: Historically, there have been two research traditions in the study of influence: one focusing on the effects of personal information and the other dealing with the effects of social information. Influence based on personal information refers to people being affected by their observations of what they have said and done in the past. Influence based on social information refers to people being affected by their observations of attitudes and behaviors of others.

The number of acts performed by the subject

The number of actions performed by the subject also influences the degree of commitment. However, the actions should be consonant or relevant to the commitment being performed. In order to maintain consistency, subjects are likely to resist influences as a result of performing a number of prior consonant acts. Kiesler (1971) tested this theory with an experiment he called « Resistance to Influence as a Function of the Number of Prior Consonant Acts: a Test. » This experiment focused on the repetition of an action in relation to the subject’s attitude toward the action when its value was put in question or attacked. For example, subjects were asked to participate in a game strategy analysis in which they repeated a strategy between zero and three times. Once the game strategy sequence was finished, a counter attitudinal communication was presented that attacked the subject’s strategy and provided a counter communication in favor of another strategy. Kiesler (1971) discusses the results: The major hypothesis was supported: subjects performing three consonant acts were much less susceptible to subsequent counterattack than those performing either one act or no acts. After attack, the three-act subjects chose the disputed strategy more often, agreed with the counter communication less, and evaluated the attacked strategy more positively than did either the one & or zero-act subjects. […] Think of the issue in terms of the cognitive corollary; commitment increases the resistance of the behavior to reinterpretation and increases the resistance to change of the cognition representing the behavior as well. […] The committed subject is indeed bound by his previous behavior. His future behavior is partly determined by his past behavior, however innocuous that behavior was at the time it was performed.
The idea behind the virtue of repetition in the paradigm of binding communications is that: people attempt to justify their past behavior by fortifying or modifying their attitude in support of their previous actions.

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The Context of Liberty

In the paradigm of commitment, liberty and free will have a significant influence on internal motivation. In the experiments performed by Joule & Beauvois (1998), it was revealed that the use of internal motivation optimizes the quality, frequency and success of commitments. The underlying theory is that when people believe in what they are doing and take pleasure in doing it, they are more successful in achieving their objectives. The experiments consisted of two groups of people who were participating in an internship as a means of helping them find employment. The control group was imposed with strict regulations prohibiting unjustified absences that would result in a deduction of pay for the day. The experimental group participated in the same internship, except that the instructor clarified their liberty by stating that « in normal circumstances, any unjustified absences would result in the deduction of pay for the day missed, however, I believe that the internship passes better and we obtain more positive results. Three months after the internship, 35% of the participants in the control group found in employment compared to 69% for the experimental group interns. The experiment revealed that internal motivation and the context of liberty play a significant role in optimizing targeted commitments; even over long periods of time. It is important to clarify that the internships were identical for the two groups; except that the experimental group was given a declaration of their liberty at the very beginning. The context of liberty reinforces personal implication and creates a bond between the person and the action being performed. After having made a choice, the person assumes responsibility for their action and relies
on personal accountability to preserve their self perception. Additionally, the context of liberty creates a sense of control in which the person feels greater self gratification once the commitment is complete. In a similar experiment (Joule & Beauvois, 1998), two groups of young Maghreb immigrants, with no high school diploma and or professional experience participated in a training program with the goal of finding employment. Participants in the control group were given strict directions for the training program; while the experimental group participants were given the same directions in a way that enhanced their liberty, participation and implication in the different decision-making processes. As the training continued, participants in the control group were never asked their opinion about how the activities were to be performed; they simply followed directions. Contrarily, participants in the experimental group were asked their opinions before undertaking each new step of the training program. All of the following training sessions proceeded with the same principles: strict orders for the control group and liberty for the experimental group. At the end of the training program, one out of nine participants in the control group obtained internships, while four out of nine participants in the experimental group obtained an employment contract. The results show that the context of liberty is a veritable source of intrinsic motivation and that it has a significant impact on the rate of goal obtention. However, due to the small size of the sample group (18 participants providing results); additional empirical validation is merited on a larger scale.

Table of contents :

Table of Contents
List of Graphs
Preface
Introduction
Context of the Research
State of the art
Part One: Underlying Theory and Exploratory Studies in the Face-To- Face Setting
1.1 Commitments
Social visibility/public nature
The importance of the act for the subject
The degree of irrevocability of the act
The number of acts performed by the subject
The Context of Liberty
1.2 Cognitive Dissonance
1.3 Social Labeling
1.4 The Principle of Reciprocity
1.5 Heuristics
Traditional Applications
Foot-in-the-door (FITD) Technique
Heuristics and the FITD Technique
Door-in-the-face Technique
Door-in-the-face & “You are Free to” Technique
Part Two: Experimental Validation in a Face-To-Face Context
2.1 Passage from the Theory of Commitment to Binding Communications
2.2 Foot in the Door Strategy in a Face to Face Communication Setting
Introduction
Scientific Questions
Hypothesis
Methodology
Method of organization
Results
Conclusion
Discussion
Part Three – Improving Communications in Computer Mediated Environments for Humanitarian Websites
Introduction: A Paradigm Shift from Face-To-Face to Computer Mediated
Communication
Social visibility/public nature
The importance of the act for the subject
The degree of irrevocability of the act
The Context of Liberty
3.1 Understanding CMC Strategies in the Age of Web 2.0
From Closed/Controlled Experimental Settings to Real Life Environments
Primary Forms of Communication on Humanitarian Websites
Abstract
Introduction
Point of Interrogation
Hypothesis
Methodology
Binding Communication
Persuasive Communication
Argumentative Communication
Storytelling
Results
Conclusion
Discussion
Introduction to CMC strategies for humanitarian websites
Traditional Journalism vs. Writing for the Web
Progressive Disclosure
Inverted Pyramid
Framing Effect
Credibility
Importance of creating user centered designs
Creating Stigmergy on the Web
3.2 A Study of the Experimental Context: the Evolution of Humanitarian
Websites
Abstract
Introduction
Internet Archive and the « Wayback Machine »
Analysis Tools & Methodology
Collection, Organization, Analysis and Treatment of Information
Collection
Organization
Analysis
Results
Apparition of Humanitarian Websites on the Internet
Average Frequency of Layout Changes
Discussion
Standardization: Design, Page length and Alignment
Design
Alignment
Page Length
Conclusion
Reflection
From Web 1.0 to Web 2.0
The Future of Humanitarian Action — Philanthropy and Web 2.0
A brief case study of the actual state of the art
3.3 New Tools for Inciting Commitments in Computer Mediated Settings:
Visual Hierarchy & Semio-Pragmatic Elements
Creating Commitment Conducive Environments on the Web: a User
centric Study of Humanitarian Website Visitors
Abstract
Introduction
Point of Interrogation
Methodology
Results
Discussion
Engaging Internauts with PUSH and PULL marketing strategies .
Applying Compliance Gaining Techniques with Textual Content
Analytics: A/B Testing, Multi-Variable Testing and Optimizing
Conversion Rates
Conclusion
Reflection
The Presence of Semio-Pragmatic Elements on Popular Humanitarian
Websites
Abstract
Introduction
Importance of Semiotics and a memorable image
Point of Interrogation
Hypothesis
Methodology
Results
Discussion
Conclusion
Visual Hierarchy and Humanitarian Websites: the F. Theory of Web
Design
Abstract
Introduction
Gestalt Principles (relevant to web design)
Figure and Ground
Similarity
Continuation
Closure
Proximity
Symmetry
F-Layout of Web Design
Methodology
Results
Conclusion

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