6 March 2020
Previous research suggests that artificial agents may be a promising source of social support for humans. However, the bulk of this research has been conducted in the context of social support interventions that specifically address stressful situations or health improvements. Little research has examined social support received from artificial agents in everyday contexts.
Considering that social support manifests in not only crises but also everyday situations and that everyday social support forms the basis of support received during more stressful events, we aimed to investigate the types of everyday social support that can be received from artificial agents.
In Study 1, we examined publicly available user reviews (N=1854) of Replika, a popular companion chatbot. In Study 2, a sample (n=66) of Replika users provided detailed open-ended responses regarding their experiences of using Replika. We conducted thematic analysis on both datasets to gain insight into the kind of everyday social support that users receive through interactions with Replika.
Replika provides some level of companionship that can help curtail loneliness, provide a “safe space” in which users can discuss any topic without the fear of judgment or retaliation, increase positive affect through uplifting and nurturing messages, and provide helpful information/advice when normal sources of informational support are not available.
Artificial agents may be a promising source of everyday social support, particularly companionship, emotional, informational, and appraisal support, but not as tangible support. Future studies are needed to determine who might benefit from these types of everyday social support the most and why. These results could potentially be used to help address global health issues or other crises early on in everyday situations before they potentially manifest into larger issues.