Research Article: Determinants of user acceptance of a specific social platform for older adults: An empirical examination of user interface characteristics and behavioral intention

Date Published: August 24, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Tsai-Hsuan Tsai, Hsien-Tsung Chang, Yan-Jiun Chen, Yung-Sheng Chang, Feng Xia.


The use of the Internet and social applications has many benefits for the elderly, but numerous investigations have shown that the elderly do not perceive online social networks as a friendly social environment. Therefore, TreeIt, a social application specifically designed for the elderly, was developed for this study. In the TreeIt application, seven mechanisms promoting social interaction were designed to allow older adults to use social networking sites (SNSs) to increase social connection, maintain the intensity of social connections and strengthen social experience. This study’s main objective was to investigate how user interface design affects older people’s intention and attitude related to using SNSs. Fourteen user interface evaluation heuristics proposed by Zhang et al. were adopted as the criteria to assess user interface usability and further grouped into three categories: system support, user interface design and navigation. The technology acceptance model was adopted to assess older people’s intention and attitude related to using SNSs. One hundred and one elderly persons were enrolled in this study as subjects, and the results showed that all of the hypotheses proposed in this study were valid: system support and perceived usefulness had a significant effect on behavioral intention; user interface design and perceived ease of use were positively correlated with perceived usefulness; and navigation exerted an influence on perceived ease of use. The results of this study are valuable for the future development of social applications for the elderly.

Partial Text

In the face of an aging population, many researchers have recently begun to pay attention to the psychological well being and social needs of older people. A social network refers to the network-type structure formed among people or between people and organizations through connections such as interpersonal relations, social relations, etc., which can range from close to distant [1]. Given a certain stage of life and living environment, individuals, in particular older people after retirement, respond rather differently to social networks. Because of environmental restrictions, seniors who once spent most of their time at work and established social interactions in their workplaces often find it difficult, once retired, to expand the scope of their social lives and maintain their earlier social relations. Furthermore, age-related deterioration of physiological functions and senses limit opportunities for social contact. In addition to aging and retirement, the elderly must cope with grief resulting from widowhood and the loss of loved ones and friends, leading to loneliness and a lack of social contact and interaction [2,3]. Many studies have suggested that social relations and social interactions are closely associated with maintaining physiological function and mental health in the elderly. For instance, poor social relationships increase the risk of coronary heart disease in the elderly [4]. Social interactions and social activities can remedy the social isolation, loneliness, depression and cognitive impairment of older people [5,6]. Social activities can maintain the physiological function of elderly people and help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease [7]. Social interaction has the same effect as staying fit on reducing the risk of death [8]. As they age, older people are more willing to spend time maintaining connections with family members and close friends [9]. Emotional connection and closeness with family members and loved ones make older people feel happy [10], and social interaction with friends helps older people achieve a sense of happiness and intimacy, moderate their self-disclosure and emotional support, and maintain their self-worth [11]. Therefore, social relations and social conditions may affect the psychological and physical health of the elderly. Thus, to promote the health of the elderly, their social life must also be promoted.

To understand how user interface affects older adults’ intention and attitude with regard to using TreeIt, a social platform, the 14 usability heuristics proposed by Zhang et al. [29] were adopted, namely, “H1 Consistency”, “H2 Visibility”, “H3 Match”, “H4 Minimalist”, “H5 Memory”, “H6 Feedback”, “H7 Flexibility”, “H8 Message”, “H9 Error”, “H10 Closure”, “H11 Undo”, “H12 Language”, “H13 Control”, and “H14 Document”. However, because the 14 heuristics included several overlapping features, they were grouped into three factors (system support, user interface design and navigation) based on previous studies [46,48,49] (Table 1) and was assessed by five suitable experts. The other three factors (perceived ease of use, perceived usefulness and behavioral intention) were adopted from the TAM. The definition of each factor and hypotheses regarding the relationship between the factors are described below, while the study’s research framework is shown in Fig 1.

In this study, we investigated TreeIt, a social application specifically developed for older adults that contained seven social promotion mechanisms. By using the system, TreeIt allows older adults to increase social connection, maintain intensity of social connection and strengthen social experience. To investigate the effect of the user interface usability on older adults’ intention and attitude related to using the system, 14 usability heuristics proposed by Zhang et al. [29] were used to evaluate user interface usability. The heuristics were grouped into three categories (system support, user interface design and navigation). The behavior of older adults with respect to using the TreeIt system was assessed by combining the heuristics with the TAM. The results showed that the five hypotheses proposed in this study were all valid. In terms of system support, the results of this study validated the H1 hypothesis that system support significantly affects behavioral intention. After the elderly subjects operated the TreeIt system, many thought that TreeIt’s social display function and recent group function helped remind them of their friends’ social status and expressed a willingness to maintain social relations with friends via the TreeIt system. Moreover, a number of subjects claimed that the hot-topic function helped them pay attention to friends’ messages. The users noted that the user interface design made it easy to operate the TreeIt system without being prone to making operational errors. Even in case of errors, the users were easily able to fix them by themselves. In terms of user interface design, the relationship between user interface design and perceived usefulness was validated. The TreeIt system used a tree to represent users and leaves to represent friends’ social status. The number of leaves represented the number of friends, whereas the size of a leaf represented the intensity of the social relationship with a particular friend. Many subjects noted that the analogy was appropriate and clear. The visual appearance of the system, namely, layout, color schemes, icons, buttons, etc., also conformed to the concept of the tree. Regarding the mood display/ emotional feedback function, when one friend accumulated or maintained a certain level of emotional feedback, the color of the leaf changed or remained the same to indicate the friend’s positive or negative mood. The subjects claimed that clear system user interface design helped them maintain or strengthen their social relations with friends. In the navigation section, the results of the study were consistent with those of Ramayah [61], indicating that navigation significantly affected perceived ease of use. As the user interface design of the TreeIt system was fairly simple and only contained three operation layers at most, navigation was easy for the users. The majority of the subjects indicated that the operation of the TreeIt system did not impose too large of a cognitive load.

Regarding the validation of system usability, previous studies have investigated the relationship between quality and usability or the relationship between user interface and perceived ease of use or perceived usefulness. However, in those studies, the definitions of usability and user interface were too broad and only portions of Nielsen’s usability heuristics were applied. Because there have been no detailed investigations on the effect of system user interface usability on older adults’ attitude and intention to use SNSs, this study divided the 14 heuristics proposed by Zhang et al. [29] into three categories (system support, user interface design and navigation) and integrated them into the TAM. The results showed that system support and perceived usefulness had a significant effect on behavioral intention. Furthermore, user interface design and perceived ease of use were positively correlated with perceived usefulness. Navigation also had a positive correlation with perceived ease of use. These findings can provide valuable suggestions for designing social applications’ user interface for older adults in the future. However, this study also has some limitations. First, to maintain social intensity, the system automatically filtered out friends with whom the user had weak connections and limited users to 150 friends. However, users might found it difficult to maintain their social connections with friends who were initially filtered out. As a result, we suggest that the system allow users to manually search for friends who were previously filtered out. Second, the study was conducted by inviting subjects to operate seven functions in an experimental fashion. The subjects were unable to interact with their real friends through the system. Therefore, it is recommended that a long-term study be conducted to examine elderly subjects’ real interactions with their friends through the TreeIt system. Finally, the main purpose of this study was to understand whether user interface usability affects users’ acceptance of new technology. In future studies, the effect of other internal or external factors such as gender, subjective norms, and self-efficacy on older adults’ use intention and acceptance of social applications should also be investigated.




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