Virtual humans inspire patients to open up:Univ of Southern California

Virtual humans inspire patients to open up


According to a study by University of Southern California, virtual humans holds promise for people with mental health issues.

Reports suggest that, patients are more comfortable to disclose their personal information to virtual humans than actual ones. This is largely because computers lack the proclivity to look down on people the way another human might.

The research was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and lead by Gale Lucas, a social psychologist at USC's Institute for Creative Technologies. Gale Lucas stated, the research and the U.S. Army is promising for people suffering from post-traumatic stress and other mental illness.

The study observes that 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.

It also provided compelling reasons for doctors to initiate the use of virtual humans as medical screeners. The answers acquired by a virtual human could help doctors in better diagnosis and to provide appropriate treatments to their patients.

Opening up to virtual human - assures a guiltless personal experience.

One participant who thought the virtual human was automated thought the experience was way better than talking to a person. "I don't really feel comfortable talking about personal stuff to other people," said the participant.

In contrast to the above statement, another participant thought the conversation was being observed. The participant said, "I wish you hadn't told me that other people were in the other room listening in. It was weird, like, I don't even know these people. I would have said a lot more stuff if they weren't there."

The virtual human named Ellie, initiates conversation and has incorporated feedback with empathetic listening through facial expressions and nodding. The virtual nature of Ellie gave participants the sense of anonymity which makes them disclose personal information in a private setting without the fear of criticism.

People now a days are increasingly interacting with computers over real people for their everything from banking to grocery shopping, the researchers hope that opening up to a virtual character will open the door for people to get the care they need in a variety of health care settings as well.

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