Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 38 Number 3 2021 pp. 798-827

Designing Online Virtual Advisors to Encourage Customer Self-disclosure: A Theoretical Model and an Empirical Test

Al-Natour, Sameh, Benbasat, Izak, and Cenfetelli, Ron


Virtual advisors (VA) are tools that assist users in making decisions. Using VAs necessitates the disclosure of personal information, especially when they are employed in personalized contexts such as healthcare, where disclosure is vital to providing valid and accurate advice. Yet, extant research has largely overlooked the factors that encourage or inhibit users’ from disclosing to VAs. In contrast, this study investigates the determinants of users’ intentions to self-disclose, and examines how VAs can be designed to enhance these intentions. The results of a study in the context of skin care advice reveal that the intention to disclose to a VA is not only the product of a rational process, but that perceptions of the VA and the relationship with it are important. The results further show that a parsimonious set of design elements can be used to endow a VA with desired characteristics that enhance the willingness to disclose. The study contributes to our understanding of the factors influencing users’ intentions to provide personal information to a VA, which extend beyond the expected benefits and costs. The study further demonstrates that social exchange theory can be applied in contexts in which humans are interacting with automated VAs.

Key words and phrases: virtual advisor, recommendation agent, decision aid, online disclosure, online decision making