Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 28, 2021

Automated voices influence perceived usability

By ERICK SUN | October 4, 2012

How often do you or your parents look at your GPS with utter frustration as it tells you in that monotone, computer-generated, female voice, to “turn left” when there is no road going left?

It seems like with so much new technology coming out, manufacturers of navigation systems should be able to have better improvements on voices!

Not where you thought I was going?

Well, according to work done by Rochelle Edwards and Philip Kortum of Rice University, the voices you hear when using interactive voice response systems, such as GPS directions or the Comcast automated caller response, can have an impact on how you perceive the usability of the system.

Although the message and function may be the same, the team at Rice hypothesized that something as subtle as differences in voice can change the user experience.

In their study, Edwards and Kortum had studied participants working with a medical interactive voice response system (IVR), which asked questions about the health of these participants. The study altered the sex and tone of these automated voices to give say, a professional female voice, or an upbeat male voice. Afterwards, the users were then asked which systems had the best usability.

According to their survey results, the researchers found that male voices were perceived to be more usable, however, female voices were more trustworthy.

Although people have hypothesized that users respond better to human voices than to computer-generated ones, very few studies have actually looked into this effect on user experience.

With an influx of voice response systems such as Apple’s Siri and Android’s Iris, the work of Edwards and Kortum has a growing importance in the market. It offers another avenue for companies to improve technology that can be better suited for users.

Edwards and Kortum will present their full findings at the 56th Annual Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Meeting in Boston later this month.

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