Hiram College

Mcgucken presenting research

If it seems as though e-commerce sites like Amazon always get you to buy more than you intended, that may be because the recommender technology the site uses is inherently persuasive. Graduate student Melinda McGucken presented her capstone research about persuasion technology and e-commerce at the Ohio Celebration of Women in Computing, Feb. 20-21, 2015.

Her talk “Recommender Systems as Persuasion Technology: An E-Commerce Perspective,” drew a crowd of about 50 attendees at Sawmill Creek Resort and Convention Center in Huron, Ohio. Through a series of panels, workshops, presentations and networking opportunities, OCWiC showcased the strides and successes women have made in the computer science industry – a field where women usually constitute fewer than 20 percent of the population.

McGucken, who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Hiram College in 2000, returned to Hiram to pursue her Master of Arts degree in interdisciplinary studies after working as an IT consultant; she will graduate this May. Interested in both computer science and psychology, she chose a capstone topic at the intersection of those two disciplines and ended up finding her niche.

Through her research – and guided by her advisors, Ellen Walker, professor of computer science, and Amber Chenoweth, assistant professor of psychology – McGucken found that e-commerce recommender systems used by sites like Amazon and Netflix are both inherently persuasive on their own and enhanced to be more effective through principles of psychology.

“Over tens of thousands of years, the human psyche remains largely unchanged. We’re confronted with massive information overload that our brains did not evolve to handle in the Information Age,” McGucken said. “By leveraging recommender systems, we can handle this information and find solutions tailored for us by artificial intelligence. For e-commerce companies, it is important to know how the age-old principles of persuasion are being leveraged now, and could be in the future, to enhance how they work with what is innate in the human mind to bring positive business growth.”

McGucken eventually hopes to work in captology (computers as persuasion technology) or big data, and she feels prepares for the opportunities that will arise, thanks to her interdisciplinary education.

“I think my degree will be a game-changer,” she said. “I can go into companies and tell them I earned a unique degree that taught me how to combine disciplinary perspectives to solve problems that are unsolvable with one perspective alone. That’s powerful stuff! I think I can make a solid case that I can be trained for any job I do not already know how to do, and further my expertise in what I do know, because I’ve gained insight from my degree program.”

McGucken will present her capstone research at Hiram College on May 9, 2015.