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A politeness effect in learning with web-based intelligent tutors.

Bruce McLaren; Krista E. DeLeeuw; Richard E. Mayer
In: International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, Vol. 69, No. 1-2, Pages 70-79, Elsevier, 2011.


College students learned to solve chemistry stoichiometry problems with a web-based intelligent tutor that provided hints and feedback, using either polite or direct language. There was a pattern in which students with low prior knowledge of chemistry performed better on subsequent problem-solving tests if they learned from the polite tutor rather than the direct tutor (d=.78 on an immediate test, d=.51 on a delayed test), whereas students with high prior knowledge showed the reverse trend (d=−.47 for an immediate test; d=−.13 for a delayed test). These results point to a boundary condition for the politeness principle—the idea that people learn more deeply when words are in polite style. At least for low-knowledge learners, the results are consistent with social agency theory—the idea that social cues, such as politeness, can prime learners to accept a web-based tutor as a social partner and therefore try harder to make sense of the tutor’s messages.