Are People Polite to Computers? Responses to Computer-Based Interviewing Systems1


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    This research was supported by the Social Responses to Communication Technology (SRCT) project at the Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University. The authors gratefully acknowledge the numerous comments and suggestions provided by the SRCT lab group.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Clifford Nass, Department of Communication, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2050. e-mail:


The present studies were designed to test whether people are “polite” to computers. Among people, an interviewer who directly asks about him- or herself will receive more positive and less varied responses than if the same question is posed by a third party. Two studies were designed to determine if the same phenomenon occurs in human–computer interaction. In the first study (N= 30), participants performed a task with a text-based computer and were then interviewed about the performance of that computer on 1 of 3 loci: (a) the same computer, (b) a paper-and-pencil questionnaire, or (c) a different (but identical) text-based computer. Consistent with the politeness prediction, same-computer participants evaluated the computer more positively and more homogeneously than did either paper-and-pencil or different-computer participants. Study 2 (N= 30) replicated the results with voice-based computers. Implications for computer-based interviewing are discussed.