Benefits of communicating with a virtual human for people with emotional distress

Benefits of communicating with a virtual human for people with emotional distress

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Sharing emotional distress people with others are not always an optimal solution. The phenomenon is termed social sharing, but a lot of people do not feel comfortable with this both when it comes to the sender and the receiver. At the same time as professional help often are seen as too expensive, or available too far away, or too long waiting list. Could a virtual human, an avatar, be the answer for people with emotional distress?

 A new research paper The avatar will see you now: Support from a virtual human provides socio-economic benefits by Lisanne S. Pauwa, Disa A. Sauter, Gerben A. van Kleef, Gale M. Lucas, Jonathan Gratch, and Agneta H. Fischer shows positive impact of virtual human support for people with emotional distress. The authors define a virtual human in the following way:

“Virtual humans are computer-generated characters that respond to words and non-verbal behavior in human-like ways, using emotional expressions, language, and body language, and they can provide forms of support that are readily accessible to anyone with an internet connection.” 

The main result shows that: 

  • Sharing negative emotions with a virtual human reduces negative emotions.
  • Sharing with a virtual human fosters emotional relief, regardless of support type.
  • Virtual humans may help overcome sharers’ resistance to cognitive support.
Benefits Of Communicating With A Virtual Human For People With Emotional Distress
Virtual human Julie

The research included 115 participants where a virtual human provided cognitive or emotional support to these people with problems of anger management or anxiety. They participated in two sessions with the virtual human “Julie”. One included a situation that made them feel angry and the other a situation that made them feel worried. The conclusion is that a virtual human can be a workable complement to professional help, and in some cases for some humans it can even have better impact.


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