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Provoking thought: The effect of interacting with an information source on the type of cognitive strategy used to evaluate information obtained from the source

John Stephan, 1998
Faculty Advisor: Joel Brockner


This dissertation examined how interacting with an information source affected individuals' motivation to adopt mindful, central processing cognitive strategies to evaluate information obtained from the source. It was hypothesized that the extent to which interaction with a source encouraged feelings of control, involvement and participation would motivate individuals to be more mindful and adopt central processing strategies in their analysis of information they obtain from the source. When interaction with a source affords users less control, involvement and participation, peripheral processing strategies were expected to occur.

A lab study varied interaction levels to investigate whether or not subjects would utilize the peripheral cues of source identity and credibility-building experience in their subsequent evaluation of information obtained from either an interpersonal or computerized source.

Results showed that when interaction with a source placed users in a passive role with lower feelings of control, involvement and participation, individuals employed less-effortful peripheral cognitive strategies and based their assessment of experimentally provided information on the peripheral cue of source identity. When interaction levels were higher, the peripheral cue of source identity did not influence information assessments. Results for the peripheral cue of prior credibility-building experiences were consistent with those for source identity. Analyses using the individual difference variable need-for-cognition and the extent to which mindfully processed information would be resistant to change supported the contention that differences in interaction levels led to the use of different cognitive strategies.

In examining these issues, this dissertation filled a gap in the persuasion literature (e.g., Petty & Cacioppo, 1986) which has overlooked the fact that individuals often must actively search for and acquire information. It also extends the work of Daft and Lengel (1984) by incorporating motivational effects into their information richness theory.

Practical implications stemming from this study range from interface design issues associated with computerized systems to the structuring of an organization's information-processing environment to encourage its members to be more mindful about the information they acquire.

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