Some first research exploring how people are more honest and less embarrassed when sharing very personal details with a virtual Human than they are with the real thing. There is the promise of help for people struggling with serious mental anguish, including post-traumatic stress. ￼
Research carried out by the University of Southern California is the first of its kind and shows a willingness on the part of patients to divulge even very embarrassing information if they believe there is no human involved.
Subjects recruited through Craigslist aged between eighteen and sixty five were evaluated using SimSensei, a virtual human application able to pick up signals of depression and anxiety through both real-time sensing and non-verbal behaviours.
The aim is to see whether such technology can be of help to real people. The virtual human Ellie would ask questions, feedback, and express empathetic listening, thereby developing rapport and not judging – two important things when it comes to disclosing personal information important to the beginning of diagnosis and therapy.
Whilst the researchers point out this is not a replacement to real people offering the necessary care and support, but a way of opening up the process with more important and critical information being available sooner.
I find it fascinating how people can be more honest to a virtual human and wonder about how this will not only be something which helps more serious mental conditions but also those carried around by people which inhibit them from flourishing in their lives.
“The study provides the first empirical evidence that virtual humans can increase a patient’s willingness to disclose personal information in a clinical setting. 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.” (Tanya Abrams – USC)
“One participant who thought the virtual human was automated said the experience was “way better than talking to a person. I don’t really feel comfortable talking about personal stuff to other people”.” (Tanya Abrams – USC)
Futurity: 21st July 2014