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How to Improve Internet Comments

2014 October 29
by Richard N. Landers

ResearchBlogging.orgThe most promising and yet most disappointing aspects of the Internet are the written comments left by the general public.  On one hand, comment sections are a great democratization of personal opinion.  With public commenting, anyone can make their opinion known until the world on whatever topic interests them.  On the other hand, comment sections give voice to absolutely any nutjob with Internet access.  As it turns out, and this is evident to anyone who has ever scrolled down on any video anywhere on YouTube, comment sections often devolve into base attacks, non sequiturs, and general insanity.

So how to deal with that problem?  In an upcoming paper, in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Stroud, Scacco, Muddiman and Curry[1] explore this issue on news websites by randomly assigning 70 political posts made by a local TV station to one of three conditions:

  • Condition 1: An unidentified staff member from the TV station participated in the discussion.
  • Condition 2: A political reporter participated in the discussion.
  • Condition 3: The discussion was permitted to run unmonitored.

2703 comments were made on these posts.  And as it turns out, participation in your comment section can change the tone.  Findings included:

  • Reporter participation improved the deliberative tone of discussion, decreased uncivil comments (17% reduction in probability), and increased the degree to which commenters provided supporting evidence for their points (15% increase in probability).
  • Reporter participation also appeared to improve the probability commenters left comments relevant to the post and asked genuine questions, but these effects were much smaller (and not statistically significant, given the sample size).
  • Presence of the staff member had no effect in comparison to unmonitored discussion.  Troublingly, uncivil comments in fact went up and genuine questions went down when staff members were present.
  • The specific type of prompt right before the discussion began had a smaller effect on discussion quality.  Specifically, open-ended questions (e.g., “What do you think about x?”) versus closed questions produced slightly more genuine questions and evidence, but only changes in probabilities were only about 10%.

The take-home here is that an “official”, knowledgeable, and active participant in the comment section did improve the quality of discussion.  Considering the link between discussion quality and time spent on websites, this has important implications for the use of discussion forums in contexts other than that of TV stations.

And although I don’t think we’re going to fix YouTube any time soon, this is definitely a step in the right direction.

  1. Stroud, N., Scacco, J., Muddiman, A., & Curry, A. (2014). Changing Deliberative Norms on News Organizations’ Facebook Sites Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication DOI: 10.1111/jcc4.12104 []

How to Write an APA Style Research Paper Introduction [INFOGRAPHIC]

2014 October 23
by Richard N. Landers

Writing APA-style papers is a tricky business. So to complement my discussion of writing publishable scientific articles, I’ve created an infographic showing some of the major ideas you should consider when writing the introduction to an APA-style research paper. This approach will work well in most social scientific fields, especially Psychology. If you’re writing a short paper, you might only have the first section (the “intro to the intro”) and something like either Subheading 2 or 3. It all depends on the particular research question you’re asking!

The key to writing scientific papers is that you throw out most of what you know about writing stories. Scientific research papers are based upon logical, organized arguments, and scientists expect to see a certain structure of ideas when they read papers. So if you want your paper to be read, you need to meet those expectations.



Do Interactive Experiences Aid Employee Recruitment?

2014 October 15
by Richard N. Landers

ResearchBlogging.orgMany modern organizations try to compete for top talent by adding fancy, interactive experiences to their recruitment process – think of something like a virtual tour.  Such interactive experiences are expensive, but their creators hope that they will attract a higher class of recruit.  New research from Badger, Kaminsky and Behrend[1] in the Journal of Managerial Psychology explores the impact of such media on some recruitment-related outcomes, concluding that highly demanding interactive recruitment activities are likely to harm how well recruits remember important information and do not provide other benefits.

To understand why this might be the case, you must first understand that there are two competing arguments about interactive experiences in recruitment.  On one hand, media richness theory suggests that richer communication techniques lead to more accurate beliefs and know more about organizations when recruited through richer means.  Often, this is done in comparisons of face-to-face recruitment versus computer-mediated; in general, face-to-face is better.  If media richness is really the mechanism behind such gains, we would also expected richer media to be richer than other media – for example, 3D virtual worlds should produce better recruitment outcomes than an ordinary website.

On the other hand, cognitive load theory suggests that humans have a finite amount of cognitive resources from which they must draw.  If overdrawn – for example by having too many mental demands simultaneously – then we’d expect recruitment outcomes to be worse with richer environments.  If cognitive load theory is correct, that same 3D virtual world should produce worse recruitment outcomes than an ordinary website.

The researchers furthermore distinguished between the types of outcomes each theory speaks best to.  Media richness theory speaks more to affective reactions – richer media lead to a feeling of greater affiliation and understanding of company culture.  Cognitive load theory speaks more to cognitive outcomes – higher loads lead to less information remembered.

To test these ideas, the researchers conducted a quasi-experiment of 471 MTurk workers to experience either a traditional website or an interactive recruitment experience in the 3D virtual world, Second Life.

Using path analysis, the researcher concluded from their quasi-experiment that the richer media environment did indeed reduce how well participants remembered the recruitment message.  They also found that this was mediated by the experience of increased cognitive load, supporting cognitive load theory.  There was no effect on culture-related information.

Overall, this supports cognitive load theory as the more relevant theory for studying the role of technology in recruitment outcomes, at least in regards to Second Life.  Although the experience of Second Life was certainly richer, it was also much more demanding, which overrode any potential benefits.  What this study does not speak to are innovative interactive experiences that are a little less demanding – like online recruitment games.  Such games, or other such experiences, may strike a better balance between cognitive load and media richness, but are left for future research.

  1. Badger, J.M., Kaminsky, S.E., & Behrend, T.S. (2014). Media richness and information acquisition in internet recruitment Journal of Managerial Psychology, 29 (7), 866-883 : 10.1108/JMP-05-2012-0155 []