Information technology (IT) users encounter signal words (e.g., “Warning”) and signal icons (e.g., an exclamation point) in “exception messages.” The first of two experiments reported in this paper examines the “arousal strength” associated with signal words and icons that commonly appear in exception messages. An elicitation exercise was completed by 316 participants, in which each viewed exception messages containing combinations of signal words and icons and provided their perception as to the severity of a computer problem communicated. The results allow “hazard matching”; whereby, the severity of hazard implied by the exception message can be matched to the level of the hazard. The second experiment reports a strong habituation effect in that users exhibit decreased attention to an exception message after repeated exposure, with a corresponding decrease in compliance. The effect was also found to be mitigated by increasing the arousal strength of the exception message.

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