Beyond usability -- affect in web browsing



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This research concentrates on the visual aesthetics of a website, investigating the web user's affective/emotional reactions to different designs of web homepage aesthetics and their influence on subsequent behaviors of web users. Drawing on the existing theories and empirical findings in environmental psychology, human-computer interaction, aesthetics, and marketing research literature, a research model is developed to explore the relationships between the visual aesthetic qualities of a website homepage - webpage visual complexity and order, induced emotional states in users, and users' approach behaviors toward the website. The model predicts that the visual aesthetics of a web homepage elicit specific emotional responses by provoking intrinsic feelings of pleasantness / unpleasantness, arousal, as well as motivational pleasantness / unpleasantness in web users. These elicited emotional responses, which mediate the effect of homepage aesthetic features, in turn affect web users' subsequent behaviors toward the website, such as further approaching/exploring or avoiding the website. A set of pilot studies and a main laboratory experiment were conducted to test the model and its associated hypotheses. Based on the results of pilot studies, 12 versions of a Gift website's homepage, which varied at four levels of complexity and three levels of order, were selected the stimuli materials for the main experiment. A total of 467 undergraduate students participated in the main study. During the main study, we instructed the participants to browse the homepage stimuli for a goal-oriented web search activity or an excitement/enjoyment-seeking web browsing activity, measured how they felt about the homepage and their degree of approach/avoidance tendencies toward the entire website. The results of the study generally confirmed the belief that a web user's initial emotional responses (i.e., pleasantness and arousal) evoked by the aesthetic qualities of a website's homepage he/she first encounters will have carry-over effects on his/her subsequent approach behaviors toward the website.