USC Study: Virtual assistants “way better” than talking to a person?

A new USC study suggests that patients are more willing to disclose personal information to virtual humans than actual ones, in large part because computers lack the proclivity to look down on people the way another human might.

“We know that developing a rapport and feeling free of judgment are two important factors that affect a person’s willingness to disclose personal information,” said co-author Jonathan Gratch, director of virtual humans research at ICT and a professor in USC’s Department of Computer Science. “The virtual character delivered on both these fronts and that is what makes this a particularly valuable tool for obtaining information people might feel sensitive about sharing.”

“The research, which was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Army, is promising for people suffering from post-traumatic stress and other mental anguish, said Gale Lucas, a social psychologist at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, who led the study. In intake interviews, people were more honest about their symptoms, no matter how potentially embarrassing, when they believed that a human observer wasn’t in on the conversation. “In any given topic, there’s a difference between what a person is willing to admit in person versus anonymously,” Lucas said. The study, which will be published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, provides the first empirical evidence that virtual humans can increase a patient’s willingness to disclose personal information in a clinical setting, researchers said. It also presents compelling reasons for doctors to start using virtual humans as medical screeners. The honest answers acquired by a virtual human could help doctors diagnose and treat their patients more appropriately …”


Source Tanya Abrams – USC
Contact: USC press release
Original Research Abstract for for “It’s only a computer: Virtual humans increase willingness to disclose” by Gale M. Lucas, Jonathan Gratch, Aisha King, and Louis-Philippe Morency in Computers in Human Behavior. Published online July 9 2014 doi:10.1016/j.chb.2014.04.043

PL – Now, read my post HERE as I “connect the dots” between this topic (above) to the shortage of real professionals in behavioral health services. Kudos to those creating AI applications to advance our machines. But the time has come to use AI to advance our humanity.