Human-like gadgets can offer relief from loneliness in the short term

Avatar By Aaron Sims | 4 years ago

New research has shown that conversations with human-like personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa can offer short-term relief from feelings of loneliness.

A team of researchers from the University of Kansas found that people who felt socially excluded – and who would ordinarily take steps to address this – did not feel compelled to do so after interacting with anthropomorphic devices.

The scientists employed a Roomba vacuum cleaner which had specially designed to appear as if it was smiling.

In the study, the participants were also asked to think about their phone in human-like terms, thinking about questions such as ‘how much does it help you.’

During four experiments, the subjects were made to feel socially isolated, while the scientists monitored their responses.

The researchers noted that rather than seeking out ordinary human interactions, participants who had interacted with the devices were content with the comfort they provided.

To establish feelings of loneliness, participants were asked to recall and write about a point in their lives when they felt excluded.

Alternatively, the test subjects played an online game of ‘catch’ in which other participants stopped throwing them the ball and chose others after a few initial tosses.

The study participants believed they were playing with real people online, while in reality, the other players were computer programs designed to leave them out of the game.

“If someone notices they are talking more to Siri lately, maybe that has something to do with feeling lonely,” said Dr. Jenny Olson, one of the three authors of the study.

Lead author Dr. James Mourey added that: “Alexa isn’t a perfect replacement for your friend Alexis.”

The findings could help companies design products and services which can increase the well-being of people experiencing loneliness.