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he Media Equation cover

The Media Equation

How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media Like Real People and Places

Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass

According to popular wisdom, humans never relate to a computer or a television program in the same way they relate to another human being. Or do they? In an extraordinary revision of received wisdom, Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass demonstrate convincingly in The Media Equation that interactions with computers, television, and new communication technologies are identical to real social relationships and to the navigation of real physical spaces.

Authors Reeves and Nass present the results of numerous psychological studies that led them to the conclusion that people treat computers, television and new media as real people and places. Their studies show that people are polite to computers; that they treat computers with female voices differently than male-voiced computers; that large faces on a screen can invade a person's body space; and that motion on a screen affects physical responses in the same way that real-life motion does. One of their startling conclusions is that the human brain has not evolved quickly enough to assimilate twentieth-century technology. The authors detail how this knowledge can help us better design and evaluate media technologies, including computer and Internet software, television entertainment, news, and advertising, and multimedia.

Using everyday language, the authors explain their novel ideas in a way that will engage general readers with an interest in cutting edge research at the intersection of psychology, communication and computer technology. The result is that The Media Equation is an accessible summary of exciting ideas for modern times. As Bill Gates says, Nass and Reeves show us some “amazing things.”

Byron Reeves is the Paul C. Edwards Professor of Communication, and Clifford Nass was Associate Professor of Communication, both at Stanford University. They were Co-Directors of the “Social Responses to Communication Technologies” project at the Center for the Study of Language and Information. They are consultants to industry in computing and new media.

Translated into Japanese and Polish.


  • Preface
  • Introduction

    • 1 The Media Equation

    Media and Manners

    • 2 Politeness
    • 3 Interpersonal Distance
    • 4 Flattery
    • 5 Judging Others and Ourselves

    Media and Personality

    • 6 Personality of Characters
    • 7 Personality of Interfaces
    • 8 Imitating Personality

    Media Emotion

    • 9 Good versus Bad
    • 10 Negativity
    • 11 Arousal

    Media and Social Roles

    • 12 Specialists
    • 13 Teammates
    • 14 Gender
    • 15 Voices
    • 16 Source Orientation

    Media and Form

    • 17 Image Size
    • 18 Fidelity
    • 19 Synchrony
    • 20 Motion
    • 21 Scene Changes
    • 22 Subliminal Images

    Final Words

    • 23 Conclusions about the Media Equation


    • Chapter References
    • Author Index


Remembering Clifford Nass (1958–2013)

ISBN (Paperback): 1575860538 (9781575860534)
ISBN (electronic): 1575868253 (9781575868257)
Subject: Sociology; Mass Media—Audiences; Mass Media—Influence

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