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chi2006empathy.FINAL - The Comforting Presence of...

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The Comforting Presence of Relational Agents Abstract In this paper we describe an on-going experiment on the calming effects of a relational agent on users following a social bonding interaction. Applications to a range of health care problems are discussed. Keywords Comforting; caring; embodied conversational agent; affective computing; social interface; relational agent; emotion. ACM Classification Keywords H5.2 [Information Interfaces and Presentation]: User Interfaces—Evaluation/methodology, Graphical user interfaces, Interaction styles, Natural language, Theory and methods, Voice I/O. Introduction Social support has been demonstrated in many studies to have a significant positive impact on health. For example, a number of studies have demonstrated that emotional support, provided in the context of intimate relationships, increases survival rates among people with severe cardiovascular conditions [ 1 ] . The effects of all kinds of social support are primarily a function of the perception of support by the one Copyright is held by the author/owner(s). CHI 2006, April 22–27, 2006, Montreal, Canada. ACM 1-59593-298-4/06/0004. Timothy Bickmore Assistant Professor College of Computer and Information Science Northeastern University 360 Huntington Ave, WVH 202 Boston, MA 02115 USA [email protected] Daniel Schulman College of Computer and Information Science Northeastern University 360 Huntington Ave, WVH 202 Boston, MA 02115 USA [email protected]
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2 receiving it, rather than the perceptions, intentions or actual behavior of the person providing it [ 18 ] . Even pets can provide a sense of caring and emotional support, and pet ownership has been found to be correlated with several kinds of beneficial health- related effects [ 19 ] . One study demonstrated that the mere presence of a companion animal results in significantly lower cardiovascular reactivity (heart rate and blood pressure) following cognitive stressors, compared to the same situation in which the animal was not present [ 6 ] . The mere presence of a human friend or significant other has also been shown to reduce cardiovascular reactivity when study subjects were confronted with cognitive stressors [ 8 ] . However, other studies have shown opposite results, possibly due to the performance anxiety associated with working through the cognitive stressor tests with someone present. We are interested in developing interface agents that are capable of conferring the same supportive and calming benefits on users as those described above. Such agents could be used in health care to calm and reassure patients during hospital stays and to provide palliative care. “Virtual doulas” could provide emotional support to women in labor, resulting in the same reductions in cesarean or forceps deliveries and epidural anesthesia found with human doulas [ 20 ] .
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