Chris Chen’s new research examines use of automated features

The assistant professor of communication design explored why individuals use automated features like autocorrect on iPhone, Smart Reply on Gmail, and autoplay on YouTube.

Chris (Cheng) Chen, an assistant professor in the Communication Design Department, coauthored a new journal article, titled “Interpassivity instead of interactivity? The Uses and Gratifications of Automated Features,” in Behaviour & Information Technology.

Chris (Cheng) Chen

With collaborators Sangwook Lee and S. Shyam Sundar, both of Pennsylvania State University, Chen examined why individuals use automated features like autocorrect on iPhone, Smart Reply on Gmail, and autoplay on YouTube. The coauthors identified three major gratifications users seek in automated features:

  • convenience (“it frees me from doing things manually”)
  • user control (“I have control of what I want to do”)
  • user profiling (“it learns from my behavior”)

These gratifications bring design implications for automated systems such as ChatGPT, smart home devices, and self-driving cars, Chen explained.

“I am interested in this topic because of the new affordance offered by automated features, namely interpassivity,” she said. “On the one hand, we enjoy the interactivity offered by the features and actively engage with them. On the other hand, we want them to automate several aspects of our experience so that we do not have to actively make choices and participate. This paradox triggered our research question, i.e., ‘What gratifications users seek in automated features?’”

According to their research abstract, the researchers conducted three focus groups to generate a list of 66 gratification items, which were subjected to exploratory factor analysis in a survey study. The results indicated that convenience, user control, and user profiling are three distinct gratifications of automated feature usage. Furthermore, user control is universally desired across features, and user profiling motivates the use of all automated features.

“Consistent with the affordance of interpassivity, we identified convenience from automation and user control from interactivity as two distinct gratifications users perceive from automated features,” Chen said. “To our surprise, user profiling also emerged as a gratification. It means that users enjoy using the feature when it remembers their habit and preference.”

Chen has explored uses and gratifications of social media in relation to addiction in her recent research. In August, she published a coauthored journal article, titled “Differentiating Problematic from Habitual Instagram Use: A Uses and Grats 2.0 Perspective,” in Social Media + Society. The article examined social media use and its impact on societies past, present and future.

Behaviour & Information Technology highlights research on usability and user experience, human-centered interaction, human-centered and user-centered design, and human aspects of the digital world. The journal is published by Taylor & Francis.