COMMUNICATION INTERFACE PROXIMITY AND USER ANXIETY: COMPARING DESKTOP, LAPTOP, AND HAND-HELD DEVICES AS MEDIA PLATFORMS FOR EMERGENCY ALERTS
Newhagen, John E.
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This study is an experiment investigating the effects of communication interface proximity on college students' anxiety when they receive the alerts about on-campus crimes via e-mails and text messages. It proposes a new dimension for the traditional concept of proximity in journalism and suggests a shift in the emphasis of proximity from audience-to-event to user-to-interface. It draws the theoretical framework from multiple disciplines: human-computer interaction research, the information processing model, media effects research, as well as the psychological research of anxiety. A total of 97 college students in a large mid-Atlantic university participated in this experiment. Communication interface proximity was conceptualized as three different media platforms: desktop computer (stationary), laptop computer (portable), and hand-held device (mobile). The students were assigned to one of the three device groups based on their self-reported computer usage and received four crime alerts per day for two days through one of the devices. They were required to carry a Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM) pictorial scale during the experiment and reply to the alerts as soon as possible using the SAM and felt anxiety scales. They also filled out an online questionnaire at the beginning of the study, at the end of the first day, and at the end of the study, respectively. Subjects who received the crime alerts on hand-held devices reported higher anxiety upon alert receipt than those receiving the alerts on desktop or laptop computers. Anxiety, valence, and arousal reported upon alert receipt for the laptop and desktop groups decreased significantly in early day two, suggesting an "overnight effect" of the crime alerts on these two groups. However, the hand-held group still reported a high level of anxiety upon alert receipt in early day two, suggesting the ubiquitous hand-held device is just under our skin, with no "down time". This study also found that anxiety predicted latency time of response to the alerts and memory for the crime alerts, indicating that anxiety serves as an adaptive heuristic in an emergency and helps people allocate their limited cognitive mental resources, as suggested by the information processing model.