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Adding human avatar to chatbots not enough: Study

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Giving chatbots a human name or adding human like features to it might not be enough to win over a user if the device fails to maintain a conversational back-and-forth with the person, say researchers, including one of Indian-origin. The findings, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, suggest that chatbots that had human features such as a human avatar, but which lacked interactivity, disappointed the users.

“People are pleasantly surprised when a chatbot with low anthropomorphism — fewer human cues — has higher interactivity,” said study co-author S Shyam Sundar, Professor at the Pennsylvania State University. “But when there are high anthropomorphic visual cues, it may set up your expectations for high interactivity – and when the chatbot doesn’t deliver that – it may leave you disappointed,” Sundar added.

The researchers also found that just mentioning whether a human or a machine is involved or providing an identity cue guides how people perceive the interaction. For the study, the team involved 141 participants. They were told that they were shopping for a digital camera as a birthday present for a friend. Then, the participants navigated to an online camera store and were asked to interact with the live chat feature.

The team designed eight different conditions by manipulating three factors to test the user’s reaction to the chatbot. The researcher said the findings could help developers improve acceptance of chat technology among users, adding that virtual assistants and chat agents are increasingly used in homes and by businesses because they are convenient for people.

“There’s a big push in the industry for chatbots,” said Sundar, adding, “They’re low-cost and easy-to-use, which makes the technology attractive to companies for use in customer service, online tutoring and even cognitive therapy — but we also know that chatbots have limitations.”

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