In Effects of Interactivity: A Meta Analysis by Yang and Shen, the effects of web interactivity were analyzed across 63 studies which satisfied some of their research expectations and provided meaningful results about objective and perceived interactivity. They define interactivity as technological attributes of mediated environments that enable reciprocal communication or information exchange, which afford interaction between communication technology and users, or between users through technology (Yang and Shen 2).
Yang and Shen argue that web interactivity is significantly correlated with user enjoyment, positive attitudes, and desirable behavioral intentions, but it does not necessarily increase cognitive elaboration, knowledge acquisition, and information recall. There are four main variables used to study the effects of web interactivity: cognition, the mental activities of information processing, knowledge acquisition, or message recall; enjoyment, the pleasure and satisfaction users obtain from website use; attitude, which is individual affective orientations toward a certain object in the form of favor or disfavor; and behavioral intention, the intention to purchase or revisit the website (Yang and Shen 3-6). They seem to have found a variety of research that provided a positive, nonsignificant, or negative effect on these four variables, especially cognition. As noted in the study, some research suggested that web interactivity increase cognition, by helping users better process information, obtain knowledge, and enhance message recall, others found no effects or the exact opposite effects of web interactivity. An interesting study they cited was Warnick et al. (2005), which found that people recalled less information when presented with interactive ads than with text-based static ads, thus suggesting that while some interactive features may be beneficial, too much interactivity can be overwhelming and produce a regressive effect (Yang and Shen 3). The measurement methods employed for attitude showed interesting results against cognition. Yang and Shen wrote that by enabling connectedness, two-way communication and agentic content creation, web interactivity has been found to have generated various favorable attitudes even when users felt overwhelmed and disoriented by interactive features. They named this phenomenon the “interactivity paradox”, which is the contradictory impact of web interactivity on attitude as opposed to cognition (Yang and Shen 6). In fact, even when users rated an interactive news website as significantly more complex to follow, they still reported favorable attitudes toward it. They also noted potential moderators, such as the operationalization of interactivity, either as a medium or message feature. The medium-centered approach views interactivity as an attribute of the technology that affords user-to-user or user-to-system interactions such as hyperlinks , mouseover , and richness of message presentation (image, video, audio) and has been more persuasive to website users than the message-centered approach which treats interactivity as a process of continuous message exchanges through which users interact with each other or with the system (Yang and Shen 7). Lastly, they noted a major limitation of viewing interactivity, which is the locus of interactivity or users’ subjective perceptions of experience with interactive features and objective interactivity. They sought this important distinction for experimentation because the mere appearance of interactive features does not necessarily guarantee that users would perceive the same level of interactivity. Ultimately, across all studies they found web interactivity had a significant positive effect on all the outcome variables. However, they also found that web interactivity did not necessarily benefit user cognition. In the end, they state, “even though interactivity might not necessarily be advantageous to user cognition, it can nevertheless induce positive user attitudes toward associated websites” (Yang and Shen 16).
Overall, Yang and Shen provide a very compelling argument for why web interactivity clearly has important benefits for users by highlighting the variables of enjoyment, attitudes, and behavorial intentions on a user-to-system or user-to-user communication platform. They recommended for websites designed for entertainment and recreational purposes. Even stated that commercial and informational websites would benefit from interactive features as they can enhance enjoyment and positive attitudes (Yang and Shen 18). It is particularly interesting to see how they essentially tied this experiment into marketing strategies for select businesses to adopt in order to enhance their user satisfaction and engagement. Although the levels of interactivity play a role in web interactivity and user responses. It makes sense that they found an initial increase of interactivity might generate positive effects or favorable attitudes, but after an optimal point had been reached additional increases of interactivity would only cause negative effects like cognitive overload. Especially given the “interactivity paradox”, which is the different effects of web interactivity on attitudes, enjoyment, and cognition. Furthermore, they state that this suggests that there might be two different psychological routes, cognitive and affective, through which users can be affected by web interactivity. How would businesses calculate this interactivity paradox into their marketing methods to successfully advertise to users? They might focus on how a medium centered approach, specifically the richness of message presentation may encourage favorable attitudes and better persuade website users. The only point of contention with this study is that they did not include more psychological outcomes or variables to bring in a broader spectrum of effects of interactivity. They included the key variables that needed to be evaluated, but perhaps they could have included others such as gender, age and technical competency. This would have generated higher psychological involvement from users by including more variables, thus allowing for more insight.