In his classic work, sociologist Erving Goffman used the theater as an example to explain peoples behaviour. Depending on the situation, we play an adapted role according to socially prescribed standards. Taking this into account, how can we influence the test person as little as possible? Is it even achievable? We have collected a few suggestions from the field of psychology (Human Factors).
To ensure that everyone invited participates in the tests, reminder e-mails should be sent out in advance. This is very important – it increases the probability of participation significantly.
After ensuring attendance, the next phase can begin: the interview.
The most important thing is to motivate the person to stay focused until the end of the interview. How can this be achieved? By designing the test, interview or survey environment accordingly and by using the appropriate methods. In general, characteristics of the participants must be taken into account, like for instance their attention span, response tendency or mood. Therefore, we want to pay special attention to these characteristics in this article.
Personal Characteristics and Demographic Features
Each individual brings different qualities to the table, which influences their motivation on different levels. This has an impact on how interviews should sometimes be designed differently for each person’s background. One example is the participant’s age: younger participants are less afraid of technology, and are usually very experienced and tech-savvy.
The inhibition level to use a product independently is lower for younger people than for older. Young, technology-oriented participants will appear more confident in the test and are more likely to blame problems on bad usability than older participants. Older participants need thorough instruction and often orientate themselves to the test supervisor when they are afraid of making errors.
Consider the Attention Span
A general rule is: The attention of a participant must not be overstretched! One hour interview time is a good guideline. With older participants, it should be noted that the attention span decreases with age. Of course, the test situation or interview should be designed in such way that a participant is not distracted from the actual task.
The attention span has a lot to do with the concept of mental workload. It describes the information processing capacity, that a participant possesses to be able to fulfil a task.
A participant may feel overwhelmed when a task requires a high level of memory or calculating power. If additional time pressure arises, participants are more likely to be stressed resulting in a considerable deterioration in concentration. This allows errors to creep in, which are not related to the tested application, but to the test setup and environment.
Therefore, always prioritize information and tasks in case the schedule changes. Distractions should be avoided during the entire interview process to ensure an ideal and quiet environment.
Familiarity with the Test Situation
Experienced testers know the sequence of test procedure, whereas the situation is unfamiliar to newcomers. In addition to prior experience, a person’s expectations also influences how they deal with a new task – they have expectations about their own performance. If that is satisfied, they feel more comfortable and content, leading to them being more inclined to take another test.
Be careful: Not only over loading the participant should be avoided, but also not challenging them enough. Otherwise they will become bored and disinterested and will lose the motivation to solve the tasks!
We all have our bad days. If you notice that a participant is not in a good mood, you should definitely note this.
The mood of the participant can influence their performance in the test and affect their opinion of certain questions. If the participant is overly ill-humoured, it may even be advisable to stop the test in a friendly manner. A more subtle approach is to later exclude the data from the evaluation.
Generally we want to be accepted and in test situations, in particular, we want to achieve positive results. The consequence is, that answers can be oriented towards what is socially accepted. Therefore it is difficult for some people to express criticism. As researchers, however, we want to know where exactly where difficulties arise in solving a tasks. For this reason, we expressively tell participants that they are not being tested, but the product, and that we are interested in the system’s weak points from their point of view.
Our Influence as Test Supervisor or Interviewer
We, as the researcher, are also part of the setting and we must remember that our presence has an influence on the participant. The social role assigned by the situation, not only for the participant but also the interviewer, is associated with certain characteristics and influences reactions. For example, how the questions are presented and how they are asked, as well as, other aspects such as voice and attitude. Unintentional expectations, attitudes and previous experiences of the participant play an important role. The data collected in this social situation is not unaffected by these influences and can never be completely objective.
Part of the code of conduct should therefore be to treat all participants in a consistent way: friendly but professional.
Depending on the interview questions and environment, different views and motivations can be triggered. For very sensitive topics, where deviating behaviour is expected, anonymous tools may be worthwhile rather than conducting face-to-face interviews.
And what happens after the interview? We will give you a short insight into this in our last part of our blog series on motivation.
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