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      User Experiences of Social Support From Companion Chatbots in Everyday Contexts: Thematic Analysis

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          Abstract

          Background

          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.

          Objective

          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.

          Methods

          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.

          Results

          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.

          Conclusions

          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.

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          Most cited references 33

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          Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis.

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            Distinctions between social support concepts, measures, and models

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              Functional roles of social support within the stress and coping process: A theoretical and empirical overview

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                J Med Internet Res
                J. Med. Internet Res
                JMIR
                Journal of Medical Internet Research
                JMIR Publications (Toronto, Canada )
                1439-4456
                1438-8871
                March 2020
                6 March 2020
                : 22
                : 3
                Affiliations
                [1 ] Lake Forest College Lake Forest, IL United States
                Author notes
                Corresponding Author: Vivian Ta vpta538@ 123456gmail.com
                Article
                v22i3e16235
                10.2196/16235
                7084290
                32141837
                ©Vivian Ta, Caroline Griffith, Carolynn Boatfield, Xinyu Wang, Maria Civitello, Haley Bader, Esther DeCero, Alexia Loggarakis. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 06.03.2020.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on http://www.jmir.org/, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

                Categories
                Original Paper
                Original Paper

                Medicine

                social support, artificial intelligence, artificial agents, chatbots, interpersonal relations

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