Three Ways Chatbots May Be Affecting Your Mental Health
29Jun

Three Ways Chatbots May Be Affecting Your Mental Health

From virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa to messenger bots that help you to communicate with brands online, chatbots are changing the way we interact with computers today. In 2016, global tech leaders including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Facebook’s Head of Messaging Products David Marcus said that chatbots are the new apps. That is, just as apps were once the hot new thing that could solve all kinds of problems for businesses and individuals, we’re now in the age of chatbots.

A chatbot is defined as a computer program that you use to interact  through chat;. The program mimics conversation with users to achieve a variety of purposes from offering help to resolve customer service issues as well as for ordering food, booking tickets, and even providing mental health counseling.  As one can imagine, such functionality means that chatbots make life easier in myriad ways.

In fact, research on the psychology of chatbots suggests that users are more likely to share information and openly interact with a machine interface because it is nonjudgemental. For companies, this means it is time to prioritize connecting with consumers through bots that can potentially provide greater convenience than apps and web searches because of their capacity to better understand and respond to natural speech patterns. Chatbots provide a personal touch in an otherwise impersonal user interface but perhaps therein lay their limitations too. Human language is complex and there we haven’t reached the point of truly simulating human interactions. Considering this, the advent of chatbots can potentially have deep psychological ramifications on users. Here’s a look at some of the ways interacting with chatbots can potentially affect the psychological health of humans:

Over-dependence

“Use it or lose it”, implores a popular adage about the brain. With the increasing prevalence of virtual assistants who can help us with almost everything, it’s crucial to evaluate how we are using our mind power. Chatbots are always available and will hear us patiently without judgment. How then can we resist depending on them for almost everything? This is potentially dangerous as it may cause deterioration in our problem-solving, critical thinking and decision-making capabilities in the long run. Moreover, we may develop unhealthy attachments to artificial intelligence that can have profoundly damaging effects on our overall lifestyle and personality. The 2014 science fiction film, “Her” is a good example of this possibility.

Decreased Empathy

Empathy is that all-important human trait of being able to put ourselves in someone else’s place in order to better understand and relate to them. In an increasingly globalized world, empathy is more important than ever before, particularly for leaders across all the fields. But extensive and prolonged interaction with chatbots can potentially diminish our capacity to feel empathy while increasing narcissistic and self-centered tendencies. According to academician and researcher, Sherry Turkle, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. To be precise, chatbots make us used to get our needs fulfilled without giving anything in return which can make us increasingly self-centered. The conversational always-available mode of chatbots can create a sense of connectivity and personalization but at the end of the day, they are still just machines and not human. Integrating them into our daily lives may mean that we gradually forget how to interact with other human beings and manage the dynamics of real relationships. Over time, this can make us increasingly narcissistic and even antisocial, which is indeed a worrying prospect of using chatbots .

Over simplification of real issues

As mentioned above, chatbots cannot fully understand or respond to the nuances of human language or emotion. There are high chances of misunderstanding or over simplifying really serious issues that users may be facing. For instance, the increasingly popular counseling bots can serve as virtual companions to people suffering from mental illness but the program may not pick up underlying emotional turbulence which may lead to aggravation of issues. Further, in the world of business, no amount of technological advances can teach young leaders the most important and timeless skills of all – establishing honest and sincere relationships that can be sustained over time. Young people who grow too accustomed to rely on chatbots may grow into moody and dysfunctional adults unable to resolve issues with real human beings.

Despite such less-than-desirable possibilities, chatbots are here to stay and transforming the world as we know it. As technology continues to progress at a rapid pace, we may well find effective ways of dealing with the limitations and leverage chatbots to create a better future.