Research profile | Can an understanding of human-computer interactions benefit society?


Associate Professor Ronald Cenfetelli’s research into human-computer interactions (HCI) focuses on the creation of “personalities” for technological interfaces, and whether or not an interface can even persuade people to make positive choices for the betterment of themselves and society.

Ronald Cenfetelli

By looking at computer interfaces through a social entity lens, Cenfetelli believes that technology assumes an almost human role. Research into human cognitive views of technology support this assertion as it has frequently been shown that people enjoy interacting with a computer interface as if it were another human.

His work attends to this interplay as he has been studying how to embed a personality into an interface by working with technologies such as avatars and other human-like entities.

“When we talk about HCI we are acknowledging that there are two parties in the interaction: the computer and the person," says Cenfetelli. "I am primarily interested in the latter. I focus on people’s interactions with technology: how they use it, why they use it, and why they don’t”.

Cenfetelli’s interest in human-computer interactions has led to the completion of a study that looks at how individuals respond to liars, cheats and thieves from within an online environment versus an offline one. Unsurprisingly, the results of his collaborative research project indicated that people are more likely to engage in inappropriate behaviours online.

What was surprising, however, was the high level of distress expressed by people after they discovered the online deception. 

Cenfetelli speculates that people are more upset when they are deceived online because they don’t have access to non-verbal cues such as what they would encounter in face-to-face interactions. In-person contacts yield non-verbal signals that suggest a person might be lying. Cues to this potential negative behaviour include a lack of eye contact or accelerated breathing; none of which can be seen online.

As a result, individuals cannot estimate the level of probability that deception will occur, yielding a more pronounced response when it does.

Cenfetelli’s musings concerning these results have encouraged him to start new research related to persuasive technology or how technology changes people’s attitudes. Specifically, he is interested in website design attributes and how they can lead people to purchase green products.

While still in the preliminary stages, Cenfetelli and his colleagues are trying to uncover if there is a way of designing an interface that can persuade people to make positive choices for the betterment of themselves and society.

Learn more about Associate Professor Cenfetelli and his research.