Creating More Credible and Likable Travel Recommender Systems: The Influence of Virtual Agents on Travel Recommender System Evaluation
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To help online trip planners, some online travel agencies and travel service providers have adopted travel recommender systems. Although these systems are expected to support travelers in complex decision-making processes, they are not used efficiently by travelers due to a lack of confidence in the recommendations they provide. It is important to examine factors that can influence the likelihood of recommendations to be accepted and integrated into decision-making processes. The persuasion literature suggests that people are more likely to accept recommendations from credible and likable sources. It has also been found that technologies can be more credible and likable when they give a variety of social cues that elicit social responses from their human users. Thus, it is argued that enhancing the social aspects of travel recommender systems is important to create more persuasive systems. One approach to enhancing the social presence of recommender systems is to use a virtual agent. Current travel recommender systems use various types of virtual agents. However, it is still not clear how those virtual agents are perceived by travel recommender system users and influence users' system evaluations and interactions with these systems. Consequently, this dissertation aimed to investigate the influence of virtual agents presented in travel recommender systems on system users' perceptions. Specifically, the virtual agents' anthropomorphism as well as similarity and authority cues on system users' perceptions of system credibility and liking were examined. For this purpose, two experiments were conducted. For Study 1, the impacts of anthropomorphism of the virtual agents on users' perceptions of virtual agents as well as recommender systems in terms of credibility and attractiveness/liking were examined. Anthropomorphism was manipulated with visual human appearance and voice output. Study 2 tested the influence of virtual agents? similarity and authority on travel recommender system users' perceptions of virtual agents and system credibility and attractiveness/liking. Similarity and authority of the virtual agent were tested by manipulating nonverbal cues (age and outfit) of the agent. The results showed that the characteristics of virtual agents have some influences on system users' perceptions of virtual agents as well as recommender systems. Specifically, a human-like appearance of the virtual agent is found to positively influence users' perceived attractiveness of the virtual agent while voice outputs were found to enhance users' liking of the system (Study 1). Findings also indicate that RS users' perceptions of virtual agent expertise are increased when virtual agents wear a uniform rather than a casual outfit (Study 2). In addition, system users' perceptions of the virtual agent's credibility are found to have a significant influence on users' perceived credibility and liking of the overall system, which implies an important role of virtual agents in recommender system evaluations. Further, perceived credibility and liking of recommender systems lead to favorable evaluations of the recommendations, which, in turn, increase users' intentions to travel to the recommended destination. Past travel recommender system studies have largely neglected the social role of recommender systems as advice givers. Also, it is not clear whether the specific characteristics of virtual agents presented as a part of the system interface influence system users' perceptions. This dissertation sought to close this knowledge gap. By applying classic interpersonal communication theories to human and system relationships, this dissertation expands the scope of traditional theories used in the context of studying recommender systems. Further, the results of the research presented in this dissertation provide insights for tourism marketing as well as practical implications for travel recommender system design.
Yoo, Kyung Hyan (2010). Creating More Credible and Likable Travel Recommender Systems: The Influence of Virtual Agents on Travel Recommender System Evaluation. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from