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Tactful calling: investigating asymmetric social dilemmas in mobile communications

Ohad Inbar; Gesche Joost; Fabian Hemmert; Talya Porat; Noam Tractinsky
In: Behaviour & Information Technology, Vol. 33, No. 12, Pages 1317-1332, Taylor & Francis, 2014.


Recipients of phone calls face a constant dilemma between ignoring calls at the possible expense of offending the caller, missing business opportunities or neglecting family members on one hand; and answering them at the expense of interrupting their train of thought or appearing rude and impolite towards others with whom they share a social activity on the other hand. We studied people's attitudes regarding these dilemmas, with emphasis on their social aspects. In a cross-cultural study, conducted in Israel and in Germany, we surveyed both caller and recipient attitudes towards answering mobile phone calls in various circumstances. The study also assessed the aspects of providing contextual information about a call prior to it being answered, including types of information deemed most valuable. The results emphasise the importance of social norms in affecting respondents’ attitudes towards making or accepting phone calls regardless of role (caller or recipient), gender or culture. We also found that the norms in the physical context (e.g. being in a meeting) prevailed over norms in the virtual context (e.g. the phone call). Cultural and gender differences did not affect the degree to which people were frustrated by insufficient information regarding the other party's context. However, these factors did affect the suggested design solutions to this problem. The research provides insight into the social aspects of the problem of interruptive mobile phone calls and towards designing applications that help users maintain politeness while handling the caller–recipient dilemma.