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  • Writer's pictureJareef Martuza

Digital assistants can help you exercise more by offering emotional support

Updated: Nov 7, 2022

Katja Gelbrich, Julia Hagel, and Chiara Orsingher make predictions about the future


Can chatbox applications of digital agents offer you emotional support to exercise more, learn a language, and enrich your mind? Recent research by Katja Gelbrich, Julia Hagel, and Chiara Orsingher suggests they can. Gelbrich et al. ran a series of experiments to demonstrate that emotional support offered by a digital assistant increases persistence in using technology-mediated services. Published in the March 2021 issue of IJRM (Volume 38, Issue 1), the research paper is one of the most downloaded in the last couple of years. I interviewed Katja, Julia, and Chiara about their main insights and the behind-the-scenes of the paper.


Figure 1: Conceptual framework of the research.


The idea first took shape back when Julia was Katja's doctoral student. Julia's interest in anthropomorphism and Duolingo made her curious about how digital agents offer emotional support to help us persist in our goals. Then Chiara joined the team, and they set off to investigate a previously overlooked side of digital agents.


Everyone knew that the empathic words from a digital assistant weren’t “real”. Yet, people performed better and persisted more in the tasks.

In one study, participants had to recall missing icons in an online game. In the control condition(s) the interface gave participants neutral feedback like This answer is correct/ incorrect. In the emotional support treatment condition(s) participants were given empathetic feedback like Go on like this! or Don’t let up!


Indeed, participants displayed a higher effort to stay in the task when the digital assistant offered them emotional support. “Everyone knew that the empathic words from a digital assistant weren’t “real”. Yet, people performed better and persisted more in the tasks”, reflects Katja.



But you might argue that maybe this only works in gamified settings. So, the authors created an actual language-learning app to test their theory in another experiment. Can emotional support help people persist in learning Italian? Of course! As predicted, people chose to learn more extra words when the app offered emotional support during a vocab test.


As a practitioner, I see embodiments and avatars everywhere. But these visuals don’t seem to add much. - Julia Hagel

One surprising result from the studies was that it didn’t matter if the digital assistant was embodied, i.e., given an avatar. “As a practitioner, I see embodiments and avatars everywhere. But these visuals don’t seem to add much,” cautions Julia.


The more people imagine the assistant in their mind, give it its unique shape and form, the better its perceptions will be.

Maybe we need AI that is perceived as more human-like at a deeper level, than just on the surface. Chiara adds, “The more people imagine a digital assistant in their mind, give it its unique shape and form, the better its perceptions will be”. Perhaps we’re not far from a future where several services are delivered by AI than humans. How ready are we?


Curious to know more? Click here for the full paper!

 

Meet the team



What is one prediction you’d like to make about the future of digital assistants?

Digital assistants would be pervasive in all walks of life. Everyone would be used to them, especially young people. Assistants would fill in for employee shortages across industrialized countries.


If you were not a marketing researcher, what would you be?

A professional athlete. I may still be jealous of a friend who got to take a skiing course for credits at university.

Katja Gelbrich

Professor of Business Administration and International Management, Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt

 


What is one prediction you’d like to make about the future of digital assistants?

You’ll have real talk with your digital assistants. We might ask What do you think about this recipe? rather than just give commands like Hey Siri, play Mr. Roboto.


If you were not a marketing researcher, what would you be?

An avalanche researcher. I wanted to be that as a child, and even have scrapbooks and collections to prove it.

Julia Hagel

Customer Insights/ User Experience Manager, BSH Home Appliances Group

 

What is one prediction you’d like to make about the future of digital assistants?

Personal digital assistants do more complex things and free up our working memory. We’d switch seamlessly between Omni-human and Omni-digital depending on what’s convenient.


If you were not a marketing researcher, what would you be?

A stand-up science comedian. I’d try to approach serious things in a fun way. Like doing commentary on Katja skiing across an avalanche that Julia is researching on.

Chiara Orsingher

Professor of Marketing, University of Bologna



 

This article was written by

Jareef Bin Martuza

Ph.D. Candidate at the Norwegian School of Economics



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