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July 21, 2021

Can AI chatbots help fill the empathy gap?

Stressed out? Need to talk? Turning to a chatbot for emotional support might help.  

Associate Professor of Communication Jingbo Meng wanted to see just how effective artificial intelligence chatbots could be in delivering supportive messages. So she set up the research and used a chatbot development platform to test it out.

“Chatbots have been widely applied in customer service through text- or voice-based communication,” she said. “It’s a natural extension to think about how AI chatbots can play a role in providing empathy after listening to someone’s stories and concerns.” 

In early 2019, Meng began assessing the effectiveness of empathic chatbots by comparing them with human chat. She had been following the growth of digital healthcare and wellness apps, and saw the phenomenal growth of those related to mental health. Her previous collaboration with MSU engineering colleagues focused on a wearable mobile system to sense, track and query users on behavioral markers of stress and depression. The collaboration inspired her to use chatbots that initiate conversations with users when the behavioral markers are identified. 

“We sensed that some chatbot communications might work, others might not,” Meng said. “I wanted to do more research to understand why so we can develop more effective messages to use within mental health apps.”

Read the full story on the Communication Arts and Sciences website.

By: Ann Kammerer

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