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I Can Help You Change! An Empathic Virtual Agent Delivers Behavior Change Health Interventions

Abstract: We discuss our approach to developing a novel modality for the computer-delivery of Brief Motivational Interventions (BMIs) for behavior change in the form of a personalized On-Demand VIrtual Counselor (ODVIC), accessed over the internet. ODVIC is a multimodal Embodied Conversational Agent (ECA) that empathically delivers an evidence-based behavior change intervention by adapting, in real-time, its ver- bal and nonverbal communication messages to those of the user’s during their interaction. We currently focus our work on excessive alcohol consumption as a target behavior, and our approach is adaptable to other target behaviors (e.g., overeating, lack of exercise, narcotic drug use, non-adherence to treatment). We based our current approach on a successful existing patient-centered brief motivational intervention for behavior change—the Drinker’s Check-Up (DCU)—whose computer-delivery with a text-only interface has been found effective in reducing alcohol consumption in problem drinkers. We discuss the results of users’ evaluation of the computer-based DCU intervention delivered with a text-only interface compared to the same intervention delivered with two different ECAs (a neutral one and one with some empathic abilities). Users rate the three systems in terms of acceptance, perceived enjoyment, and intention to use the system, among other dimensions. We conclude with a discussion of how our positive results encourage our long-term goals of on-demand conversations, anytime, anywhere, with virtual agents as personal health and well-being helpers.

Reza Amini
Reza Amini
Key research interests:

Affective Computing; Modeling Empathy and Rapport for Virtual Agents; Humanization of Virtual Characters.

Amini2013.pdf — PDF document, 4637Kb

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