AI Interaction: When “Heard” Trumps “Human”

As AI becomes more ubiquitous in daily life, understanding its potential and limitations in meeting human psychological needs is crucial. With dwindling empathetic connections in a fast-paced world, many are finding their needs for feeling heard and validated increasingly unmet.

The Experiment: AI vs. Human Responses

Researchers from the USC Marshall School of Business conducted an experiment to address a pivotal question: Can AI, which lacks human consciousness and emotional experience, succeed in making people feel heard and understood? The team’s findings highlight both the potential of AI and the challenges in deploying it effectively.

The study found that AI-generated messages made recipients feel more “heard” than messages generated by untrained humans. AI was also better at detecting emotions and offering emotional support strategies. However, recipients reported feeling less heard when they learned a message came from AI.

“What we found was that both the actual source of the message and the presumed source of the message played a role,” said Cheryl Wakslak, associate professor of management and organization at USC Marshall. “People felt more heard when they received an AI than a human message, but when they believed a message came from AI this made them feel less heard.”

The “Uncanny Valley” Response

Individuals further reported an “uncanny valley” response — a sense of unease when made aware that the empathetic response originated from AI, highlighting the complex emotional landscape navigated by AI-human interactions.

“Ironically, AI was better at using emotional support strategies that have been shown in prior research to be empathetic and validating. Humans may potentially learn from AI because a lot of times when our significant others are complaining about something, we want to provide that validation, but we don’t know how to effectively do so,” explained Yidan Yin, the paper’s first author.

The Path Forward: Leveraging AI’s Strengths

The research points to different advantages of AI and human responses, suggesting that AI could become a valuable tool, empowering humans to use it to better understand one another and learn how to provide emotional support.

“Leveraging AI’s capabilities might provide an inexpensive scalable solution for social support, especially for those who might otherwise lack access to individuals who can provide them with such support,” the research team notes. “However, it is critical to give careful consideration to how AI is presented and perceived in order to maximize its benefits and reduce any negative responses.”

As AI continues to evolve, navigating the complexities of AI-human interaction will be crucial in harnessing the technology’s potential to improve human wellbeing and foster more meaningful connections.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.