Montag, 3. Dezember 2012

Mixed lessons from using social psychology to foster activity in an online community

In this article Kraut et al. describe their attempt to apply some basic social psychology to the participants of a movie rating platform in order to enhance the activity level on the platform. The four experiments were performed with active members of the community MovieLens. The various conditions of the experminents were realized by emails.

Starting point was the collective effort model (Karau & Williams, 2001) which was developed to explain social loafing. Karau and Williams' (1993) collective-effort model claims that people work hard when they think their effort will help them achieve outcomes they value. The collective effort model identifies conditions under which people will socially loaf less. These include, among others believing that their effort is important to the group's performance and that their contributions to the group are identifiable, and liking the group they are working with.

Uniqueness of contribution: In accordance with the the collective effort model, subjects posted more messages, when they were given personalized information about how their knowledge of movies differed from others. Thus, people seem to contribute more to online communities when given personalized information showing that their contributions would be unique. If they believe that their contributions are redundant with those that others in the group can provide, then there is little reason to contribute, because their contributions have little likelihood of influencing the group.

Homogeneity: In contrast to the model, subjects posted fewer messages when conversing in groups constructed so that members had similar tastes in movies than in groups with heterogeneous members. Thus, people seem to contribute more to online communities when they believe that they are dissimilar rather than similar to others in the group.

The authors summarize the findings as follows. "Both posting and rating data show that people contributed more when they were made to see themselves as having unique information to contribute. In retrospect, the finding that subjects posted more to the conversation forum when they were least similar to those they were talking to may also reflect the influence of uniqueness. Subjects in groups with similar others may have run out of topics of conversation, while those in the heterogeneous groups could have lively disagreements."

Salience of benefit: Does reminding the participants of the potential benefits enhance the contribution rate? In order to answer the question, the benefit manipulation contained four conditions: no benefit, only benefit to self, only benefit to others, and benefit to both self and others. Once again participants were sent a personalized email. Participants who received
  • the self-benefit message/the other-benefit message reduced their number of ratings,
  • both self-and other-benefit messages increased their number of ratings almost to the level of the control condition.
This was contrary to the expectations of the researchers who had hypothesized that users would rate more movies when the personal benefit/the benefit provided to the community is made salient.

Intrinsic motivation: Surveys of MovieLens members suggested that they rate primarily to improve the accuracy of recommendations that they receive from the system and because the acts of remembering movies and rating them are intrinsically fun, and to a lesser extent, to help other subscribers. The researchers therefore predicted that participants who were reminded of their intrinsic motivation for ratings (“It's fun”) would rate more than participants that did not receive this message. Although participants who received the intrinsic motivation message rated more movies than those who did not, this effect did not approach statistical significance.

A possible explanation for this might be that the researches had simply run up against a limited ability to manipulate the relevant psychological states using just email messages. The majority of MovieLens users reported intrinsic benefit as their greatest motivation when asked; however, email messages saying that it is fun to rate may not be an effective way to evoke intrinsic benefit.

Challenging goals: The final experiment drew upon goal setting theory (Locke & Latham) according to which goals that are difficult to achieve and specific tend to increase performance. The hypothesis which predicted members given individual goals would rate more movies than those with group goals, was not confirmed. This unexpected result was perhaps due to the fact that feedback was included in the experiment as specified by goal-setting theory, by telling participants that they would receive an accounting at the end of the campaign of the number of movies they and their group had rated. In this case, the researches might have observed the effect of social facilitation (an effect whereby the real or imagined presence of evaluative others results in greater effort on a group task,). Finally, participants made the most ratings when they received intermediate goals, but made fewer when they were given an unchallenging goal of only a few ratings or the most challenging goals.


Ling, K., Beenen, G., Ludford, P., Wang, X., Chang, K., Li, X., Cosley, D., Frankowski, D., Terveen, L., Rashid, A. M., Resnick, P. and Kraut, R. (2005), Using Social Psychology to Motivate Contributions to Online Communities. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10: 00. doi: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2005.tb00273.x)

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