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    Can a Virtual Agent provide good Emotional Support?

    Exploring whether personality or identity effect the perceived supportiveness of a message

    HCI 2018

    Proceedings of the 32nd International BCS Human Computer Interaction Conference (HCI 2018)

    Belfast, UK, 4 - 6 July 2018


    Kirsten Smith & Judith Masthoff



    In this study we explore whether an emotional support message sent to an informal carer by a Virtual Agent provides good quality emotional support, compared to the same message sent by a friend or sister with whom they have either a close, medium, or distant relationship. We also explore whether these judgements are affected by personality. Participants recruited from Mechanical Turk rated an emotional support message for Suitability, provided qualitative feedback about their rating and then completed a personality measure. We found that the support message was rated worst when it came from the Computer, Distant-sister and Close-friend. While these were rated worse, they were not rated poorly, implying that support from a computer is valuable. There were three effects for personality which did not vary with the support giver’s Identity: agreeableness and emotional stability had a positive correlation with 3 sub-scales of supportiveness. A thematic analysis of comments revealed that people prefer emotional support from a human; they like empathy; support from close friends means more; they prefer personalised support; and they have higher expectations from family over friends.


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