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Abstract

User assistance systems are often invoked automatically based on simple triggers (e.g., the assistant pops up after the user has been idle for some time) or they require users to invoke them manually. Both invocation modes have their weaknesses. Therefore, we argue that, ideally, the assistance should be invoked intelligently based on the users’ actual need for assistance. In this paper, we propose a research project investigating the role of users’ cognitive-affective states when providing assistance using NeuroIS measurements. Drawing on the theoretical foundations of the Attentional Control Theory, we propose an experiment that helps to nderstand how cognitive-affective states can serve as indicators for the best point of time for the invocation f user assistance systems. The research described in this paper will ultimately help to design intelligent nvocation of user assistance systems.
This is the author’s version of a work that was published in the following source
Friemel, C.; Morana, S.; Pfeiffer, J.; and Maedche, A. (2017) "On the Role of
User's Cognitive-Affective States for User Assistance Invocation", to appear in:
Proceedings of the Gmunden Retreat on NeuroIS 2017.
Please note: Copyright is owned by the author and / or the publisher.
Commercial use is not allowed.
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nc-nd/4.0/
On the Role of Users’ Cognitive-Affective States for User
Assistance Invocation
Celina Friemel1, Stefan Morana1, Jella Pfeiffer1, and Alexander Maedche1
1Institute of Information Systems and Marketing (IISM), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
(KIT), Karlsruhe, Germany
{celina.friemel, stefan.morana, jella.pfeiffer,
alexander.maedche}@kit.edu
Abstract. User assistance systems are often invoked automatically based on sim-
ple triggers (e.g., the assistant pops up after the user has been idle for some time)
or they require users to invoke them manually. Both invocation modes have their
weaknesses. Therefore, we argue that, ideally, the assistance should be invoked
intelligently based on the users’ actual need for assistance. In this paper, we pro-
pose a research project investigating the role of users’ cognitive-affective states
when providing assistance using NeuroIS measurements. Drawing on the theo-
retical foundations of the Attentional Control Theory, we propose an experiment
that helps to understand how cognitive-affective states can serve as indicators for
the best point of time for the invocation of user assistance systems. The research
described in this paper will ultimately help to design intelligent invocation of user
assistance systems.
Keywords: Assistance; invocation; NeuroIS; Attentional Control Theory; cog-
nitive-affective user states; affect; mental effort
1 Introduction
Digital assistants like Siri or Alexa, chatbots like the ones on WeChat [1] and other
forms of user assistance strongly developed over the last years and the trend towards
providing advanced user assistance in digital services is even growing [2, 3]. The com-
mon idea of user assistance systems it to support users to perform their tasks better [4].
One of the early attempts to create such an assistant was Microsoft’s Clippy. Yet,
Clippy is a famous and regularly trending example for the dismal failure of such user
assistance [5]. One of Clippy’s most severe design mistakes was its proactive invoca-
tion mode. Proactively offering assistance at the right point can be a helpful feature in
order to relieve the user’s effort, ensure successful task performance and avoid errors
[2, 6]. Certainly, Clippy appeared in the most inappropriate moments and interrupted
users when not required. This led to Clippy’s rapid downfall [5], which demonstrates
the importance of a careful invocation design of assistance. The example shows that the
communication via assistants needs to be well designed and adapted to the user in order
to enhance trust and usage, and ultimately performance [7, 8]. Thus, the right timing of
2
assistance invocation is an important design aspect [9, 10]. Invocation design in this
context describes how assistance is activated. Some researchers [10] suggest a more
advanced invocation which is provided by the system that “monitors the user in some
way” (p. 504). However, existing approaches of assistance invocation are mainly dom-
inated by either automatic activation or manual user requests. The automatic provision-
ing is often designed with static predefined rules by e.g. applying explicit user model-
ling, that incorporates the users’ goals, needs, or other preferences to detect their need
for assistance [11]. Both modes have been proven to not be entirely sufficient [6, 12],
possibly because users are not always aware of when they need help and likewise fre-
quently do not know how to use assistance effectively [1315]. Furthermore, the “right
time to intervene is [still] difficult to predict” [16] for the systems and consequently
users get annoyed or out of flow when being interrupted at the wrong moments [5, 17].
As user assistance serves to relieve users’ mental working memory [10] the system
should not additionally burden the user with interruptions at the wrong time.
To address this research gap of providing intelligent invocation of user assistance
[18], we argue for taking into account the cognitive-affective states of the user in real-
time. With the term cognitive-affective states we refer to user states that involve both,
affective as well as cognitive activity [19]. These states heavily impact the interaction
between humans and technology, users’ need for assistance and consequently their task
performance [2023]. User states that influence users’ interaction with IT are, in par-
ticular, task-dependent negative cognitive-affective states, such as frustration or anxiety
[6] as well as high mental effort [24]. Thus, we assume that these user states corre-
spondingly influence users’ need for assistance [21, 22]. Drawing on the theoretical
assumptions of the Attentional Control Theory [20], we argue that the assessment of
the users’ negative cognitive-affective states with neurophysiological data is an im-
portant design aspect to further improve user assistance invocation [6, 25]. Ultimately,
systems can automatically adjust assistance invocation to sensed user states to increase
the users’ efficiency, performance, and satisfaction [6]. In our research we follow a
NeuroIS approach [8, 26]. One major advantage with regard to the outlined problem is
the opportunity to observe latent variables, such as the users’ need for assistance, di-
rectly from body signals” [27]. Thus, the research question guiding this work is:
Can we identify users’ need for assistance by unobtrusive and real-time measure-
ment and analysis of cognitive-affective states of the user?
With this we want to expand and add value to NeuroIS literature as well as user
assistance research by investigating psychophysiological correlates that reliably and
timely detect the users’ need for assistance and the IT-related behavior of assistance
usage [26]. The research described in this paper will ultimately help to design intelligent
invocation of user assistance systems.
3
2 Conceptual and Theoretical Foundations
2.1 Assistance and Invocation Modes
Assistance systems are provided in order to support users to perform their tasks bet-
ter [4]. Assistance tends to become more and more tailored to the users’ needs in order
to increase performance at the right time and in the right context [2, 4]. Moreover, var-
ying in their degree of system intelligence (e.g. provision of context-aware assistance)
and interaction enabled by the system (e.g. offering highly sophisticated dialog inter-
faces), assistance systems can exhibit different maturity levels in terms of sensing the
users’ current environment and activities [4].
One critical design aspect when providing adequate user assistance is to determine
when a user actually wants or needs assistance [16]. The right point of interrupting
users has been studied extensively in the context of notifications [13, 28, 29]. Badly
timed interruptions can cause deteriorated performance and decision-making, negative
user states (like annoyance, frustration, cognitive overload) and ultimately distrust in
the systems’ competency and usage [2831]. Correspondingly, the timing or invocation
of assistance is crucial for the assistance’ success. Recent research examining the right
time to provide assistance agrees that it should be guided by the users’ characteristics,
needs, and context [6, 16, 25, 32]. First approaches of such user modeling [11, 16] did
not provide accurate determinants for assistance invocation [12]. In line with other re-
search [6, 3335], we argue that users’ cognitive-affective states determine the need for
assistance. Modeling approaches on this new determinants exists [6, 35]. Yet, they fo-
cus on user modeling, or use manually pre-determined thresholds for assistance invo-
cation. This reveals the lack of efficient timing to intervene with assistance that acts on
the sensing of users’ cognitive-affective states in real-time.
2.2 Theorizing on Invocation Determinants: A NeuroIS Perspective
Assistance and NeuroIS. In order to gain a better theoretical understanding of hu-
man behavior, NeuroIS research [36] is eager to find psychophysiological and neural
correlates for already established IT constructs [26]. Especially in the context of offer-
ing user assistance the traditional IS research methods like surveys and interviews en-
counter difficulties of reliably predicting users’ need of assistance [15].
As users have been found to either not always be aware of when they need help,
underestimate their need for assistance, or occasionally do not want to admit that they
need assistance [13, 15, 37], a NeuroIS research approach can potentially shed light on
this issue. However, objective measurement methods for users’ assistance need in an
objective and unobtrusive way are still absent. Neurophysiological tools offer great po-
tential for new insights on user states by measuring direct responses to stimuli from the
human body [27]. Applying this approach enables to capture unconscious processes
that users might not be able to introspect or to gain insights on determinants of behavior
that users are uncomfortable to report on [26]. Moreover, the possibility of obtaining
4
real-time as well as continuous data enables analysis of temporal aspects and the meas-
urement of simultaneous processes of constructs [26]. Consequently, this helps to de-
sign adaptive IT artifacts that considers user states which determine IT behavior [38].
With regard to designing assistance invocation, this integration of psychophysiolog-
ical determinants for users assistance needs is absent in existing research. First at-
tempts to include affective user states into invocation determination of user assistance
exists [6, 35, 39, 40]. Yet, these studies primarily address this issue only from a theo-
retical view. Particularly, to our knowledge, there exists no published research on de-
termining assistance invocation by empirically integrating psychophysiological meas-
urements in order to monitor users’ states. However, not only from a NeuroIS perspec-
tive but also from a psychological view this approach can unlock great potential for
reliably detecting users’ need for assistance.
Attentional Control Theory (ACT). Since decades, researchers agree that affective
as well as cognitive states have motivational properties that lead to observable behavior
in IS [38, 41, 42] as well as non-IS contexts [20, 43].
In their psychological theory, Eysenck et al. [20, 44] offer valuable insights into the
effects of affect and cognition on users’ need for assistance. It describes the influence
of especially negative affective states on people’s task performance and related behav-
ior, in particular, their coping strategies. In order to prevent a performance loss due to
experienced negative affect and increased cognitive effort, people adjust their behavior
with, for instance, searching for assistance. Eysenck et al. revealed that provoked anx-
iety impairs peoples’ processing efficiency when working on a goal-directed task be-
cause people shift their attentional focus from the current task to the threatening stim-
ulus. This increases their cognitive resource utilization. When responding to this
change, people need additional resources (internal or external) to cope with the situation
in order to not experiencing a loss in performance effectiveness. However, this leads to
a decrease in processing efficiency. One possibility to prevent people from such an
efficiency loss caused by negative affective states is the provision of auxiliary pro-
cessing resources [20], e.g. by offering assistance.
Cognitive-Affective States. The ACT mainly focuses on anxiety as negative affec-
tive state which impairs attentional control on a current task and ultimately efficiency
and resulting performance [20]. Nevertheless, the theoretical implications of ACT have
already been applied in the IS context and expanded to negative affective states, in
general, that evidently influence IT-related behavior [42, 45]. By definition, an affec-
tive state arises from an individual’s reaction to an event and influences cognitive, phys-
iological, as well as behavioral components [6, 46]. Especially in the context of human-
computer interaction, affective states play an important role when explaining user be-
havior [19, 21, 47]. Moreover, user states of high cognitive activity are often related to
emotional responses; either in parallel or as interacting occurrences [26]. Monitoring
user states that involve both, affective as well as cognitive activity, can reveal new
insights on the users and their needs [26]. Baker et al. [19] refer to the latter as cogni-
tive-affective user states. Within the context of assistance invocation especially nega-
tive cognitive-affective states are assumed to reveal important insights [23]. They are
characterized by a negative affective valence, which can be assessed with the help of
facial electromyography tools or facial expression analysis [48]. Examples of negative
5
cognitive-affective user states are frustration or boredom [49]. Likewise, anxiety can
be categorized as such a cognitive-affective state [50]. As antecedents of negative cog-
nitive-affective user states certain stressors such as time pressure caused by dropped
network connections and high task complexity have been found to increase the need for
assistance [37].
3 Research Propositions
Drawing on ACT, we assume that negative cognitive-affective user states influence
the related users’ behavior in general and specifically the usage of assistance. This as-
sumption is based on the influence of negative cognitive-affective user state on the us-
ers’ attention focus. As this focus will shift from executing the task to coping with the
affect-evoking stimuli the user has to invest more cognitive resources [20]. This in-
crease in resource utilization is represented by users mental effort, respectively the
amount of cognitive resources that is required to manage the workload demanded by a
task [51]. As users experience a negative cognitive-affective state, we therefore assume
that their level of mental effort increases accordingly:
Proposition P1: A negative cognitive-affective state increases users’ mental effort.
This increase in mental effort leads to potential loss in users’ efficiency and ulti-
mately task performance [20]. In order to prevent them from this undesirable outcome
users are hypothesized to utilize coping strategies to decrease mental effort, respec-
tively to increase efficiency and performance [20, 52, 53]. In the case of our research
project, this is represented by the usage of a user assistance system that offers additional
information [54, 55]:
Proposition P2: Increased mental effort increases assistance usage.
4 Proposed Methodology
In a first step, we propose to examine the effect of negative cognitive-affective user
states on the users’ IT-related behavior (in this case the usage of the offered user assis-
tance). To test whether the theoretically derived propositions proof to be valid we plan
to conduct a laboratory experiment.
We measure the users’ cognitive-affective state with a combination of psychophys-
iological tools. We assess users emotional valence via facial expressions with
webcams [48] and users’ mental effort via heart rate with ECG [8, 38]. ECG is one
possibility to assess mental effort among others and has been found to be a reliable
predictor for peoples’ mental effort [56]. Furthermore, compared to other methods, as
EEG [57], it constitutes a minimally invasive measurement method [26]. Together with
existing technical restrictions, this led to our decision of approximating mental effort
via ECG measures. As the experimental context, we chose a travel booking scenario
and formulate this as a goal-directed task according to the ACT [20] by providing par-
6
ticipants incentives for a successful task execution. The experimental task will compro-
mise the configuration of a travel with specific constraints with respect to budget and
time. The participants task is to configure the optimal travel in order to fulfill the ex-
periments’ objective. A virtual travel agency will offer the assistance that the user can
consult manually, if needed. The participants will be randomly assigned to one of two
treatment groups and a control group. The treatment structure will be composed of a
low negative affect condition and a high negative affect condition. The treatments differ
with respect to the amount of task features that stimulate negative cognitive-affective
states. We then observe when they use the assistance and how this depends on the treat-
ment.
5 Expected Contribution and Future Work
In the next steps, we will finalize the experimental design and carry out the experi-
ment. Conducting the experiment and subsequently evaluating the experimental data
will reveal valuable insights on the determinants of users’ assistance needs. With this,
we will gain first design knowledge on the appropriate invocation timing of user assis-
tance systems. We aim at validating the two suggested constructs of user states as neu-
rophysiological correlates for assistance need in order to design neuro-adaptive invo-
cation of user assistance in later stages of this research [26]. The final objective is to
test and evaluate the resulting derived design knowledge in a follow-up experiment.
Thereby, we contribute to collecting initial design knowledge towards finding the right
moments for user assistance invocation. With ultimately testing the effects of such an
invocation on the user, we will further contribute to research on user assistance in gen-
eral. The hypothesized positive outcomes by applying timely user assistance [6] as well
as possible negative effects caused by interrupting the user with the assistance itself
[58] will be identified. Conceivably, the expected results will identify the optimal time
to offer user assistance even before the user experiences any negative cognitive-affec-
tive state. User assistance in the future can then be designed to detect if the user is
trending towards a negative cognitive-affective state in order to prevent any associated
performance loss by offering timely user assistance.
Furthermore, the proposed experiment has some limitations that open up opportuni-
ties for future work on the results. As we will use an ECG measurement approach for
assessing participants’ mental effort, future research on the topic could evaluate other
measurement methodologies in comparison. The approach of Eye-Fixation Related Po-
tential (EFRP) proposed by Léger et al. [59] could offer further insights into partici-
pants’ mental effort during task execution and help to identify when to offer user assis-
tance. Moreover, we are aware of the fact that not only users’ negative cognitive-affec-
tive states might constitute a need for user assistance. Other factors apart from these
should be investigated in future research on the topic. Positive affective states have
been found to influence task performance, too [60]. Together with examining the role
of users’ attention, this could complement the proposed research of finding the optimal
timing for offering user assistance.
7
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