Assessing human performance trade-offs of a telephone-based information system

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Little research effort has been devoted to human interaction with telephone information systems. This study investigated the effects of system parameters and user characteristics on human behavior in an interactive telephone-based information system. The research method utilized a centraI-composite design to study four variables at five levels each. The four factors manipulated were: synthesized speech rate, time available for user input, subject age, and background music level. Subjects searched a fictitious department store database for 16 specific store items and transcribed 16 information messages which were spoken by a computer speech synthesizer. Subjective ratings of certain features of the system were solicited from the subjects and performance measures were also collected from the subjects on an on-line basis. Performance was evaluated by calculating regression equations relating the dependent measures and the independent variables. A response surface was plotted, and optimal settings for the Information system were also calculated. Two seconds was found to be an optimal time for users to enter their selection. The computer synthesized speech rate should be set close to 120-150 words per minute. Background music or noise level should be kept below 50 dB(A); sound level above 50 dB(A) seriously affected user's ability to understand synthetic speech. Younger subjects (age 14 - 22) performed better in this study than older subjects (age 36- 62).