Year of Publication

2005

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Communication and Information Studies

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Donald O. Case

Abstract

The Internet is growing in popularity as a health information sourceespecially among young adults. Interactivity has been pinpointed as the keyfeature that makes the Internet a potentially powerful health communicationtool. It is being heralded as a hybrid channel that has the capacity not only todisseminate health information to mass audiences both asynchronously andsynchronously, but also has the capacity to provide an engaging and stimulatingenvironment that can promote exploratory learning and active processing ofinformation. Despite these exciting claims, there is still a dearth of theoreticallydrivenempirical studies providing support for or against these assumptions. Westill know very little about how interactive technologies actually influenceinformation use, learning and motivational processes.A popular view is that the communicative efficacy of interactivetechnologies is influenced more with their match with comprehension processesand individual differences than with the level of interactivity itself. This studywas designed to tease out the potential effects of different levels of interactivityon comprehension and to determine whether individual differences in need forcognition would moderate such effects. About 441 young adults (ages 18-26)from the University of Kentucky participated in a 2 by 2 factorial experimentdesigned to test the effects of two levels of interactivity and two levels of needfor cognition on the comprehension of a health website on skin cancer.Results showed a significant main effect for level of interactivity oncomprehension scores holding the covariates, time on task and reading style,constant. Those exposed to the high interactivity site had significantly highercomprehension scores than those exposed to the low interactivity site. Therewas, however, no significant main effect for need for cognition, neither was therea significant interaction effect between level of interactivity and need forcognition on comprehension scores. Implications of these results and suggestionsfor future research are also discussed.

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