Date of Award

Spring 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


STEM Education & Professional Studies


Instructional Design & Technology

Committee Director

Ginger Watson

Committee Member

Gary R. Morrison

Committee Member

Xiaoxiao Hu


Three experiments were conducted investigating the motivational effects of attractive visual aesthetic on focused attention, future use intentions, and discretionary use of a desktop instructional simulation. Participants included 90 ship-handling students from a Merchant Marine academy in the northeastern United States; 91% of the participants were male, and 9% were female, the mean age for participants was 20.97 years. Employing a pc-based desktop ship-handling training simulation, a "preferred aesthetic" was identified using paired comparisons with a relevant target audience. Two identical simulations were then developed, one incorporating the preferred visual aesthetic and one incorporating a neutral visual aesthetic treatment. Both were identical in every other respect. Experiment 1 (Focused Attention) explored the effects of preferred aesthetic on focused attention: 30 participants viewed 12 screenshots from the two versions of the simulation and their visual response was measured using an eye tracker. Experiment 2 (User Preference) identified the elements of participant preference. The 30 participants from experiment 1 viewed 8 different visual designs for the same scene in the simulation, and completed an 18 item semantic differential evaluation for each screen treatment. Experiment 3 (Persistence and Use) investigated persistence related to simulation aesthetic and future use intent, 60 participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups: 30 participants used the preferred aesthetic version of the simulation and 30 participants used a neutral aesthetic version of the simulation. Discretionary use of the simulation and learner posttest performance was measured and analyzed. These participants also completed a questionnaire regarding their intentions to use the simulation in the future. Participants in the preferred aesthetic group were significantly more likely to express intent to load the simulation on their personal computer ( M=5.7, SD=1.24) than the neutral aesthetic group (M = 4.76 , SD = 1.69), t(58) = 2.436, pd = .64; and participants in the neutral aesthetic group were significantly more likely to express intention to not use the simulation again (M = 4.76, SD = 1.64) versus participants in the preferred aesthetic group (M=5.7, SD= 1.48), t(58)=2.09, pd =.55. Participants indicated a preference for moderately complex full color images in the semantic differential experiment supporting Berlyne's arousal theory. There were no significant differences between simulation aesthetic treatment groups for eye tracking, simulation discretionary use, or simulation posttest performance.


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