The effects of perceived web page aesthetic quality on reading comprehension performance.

Phongsatha, Satha, Ph.D., University of Kansas, 2008


The relationship between graphic and design quality for online instructional materials and students' performance has not been clearly defined. In website design, the aesthetic quality has been linked to users' perceptions of the website usability as well as to users' satisfaction. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between participants' perceptions of web page aesthetic qualities and participants' performance in a reading comprehension test and their time on task.

The study controlled the interactive and reading elements on the computer screen by having the same font-color, background-color, and font-style in the central reading passage area while having three different web designs surrounding the web passage. Experts selected three surrounding web designs that they rated as: appealing, unappealing, and no design (control).

A total of 81 participants ages 18-40 were assigned to three reading passages using a counter-balancing method to assign the three web page designs. After reading the three passages, selected from practice SAT exams, the participants completed validated comprehension test for each passage. The reading time (includes reading and test-taking) was recorded for each passage.

Results found significant positive correlations between reading time and web page aesthetic rating for the appealing passages A: (r = .46, p > .05) and C: (r = .40, p > .05) and the control passage B: (r = .38 p > .05) conditions. No significant correlations were revealed for reading time on the unappealing design.

This study did not reveal significant correlations between web page aesthetic ratings on reading comprehension nor gender. Though not significant, the difference between the males' moderate negative correlation between aesthetic ratings and reading comprehension across passages (A: r = -.26; B: r = -.38; C: r = -.38) is interesting when compared to the females' positive correlation between aesthetic ratings and reading comprehension across passages (A: r = .33; B: r = .37; C: r = .34).

This study found that more time was spent reading web pages that were judged more appealing under some design and passage conditions. Although the study did not reveal significant findings on reading comprehension, the additional reading time on highly rated aesthetic designs may indicate that pleasing designs enhance interest and willingness to process information. The negative correlations between aesthetics ratings and reading comprehension with males compared with the positive correlations with females indicates that further investigations are needed to explore gender and culture differences on the influence of web page aesthetics.