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How to subdue negative emotions with an avatar

How to subdue negative emotions with an avatar

(Legitscience) – A recent study shows how to subdue or reduce negative emotions with an avatar or a virtual human. Talking to a virtual person made participants feel comforted and close to them. This is according to a study published in Computers in Human Behavior.


It is in our inclination to seek social support when we are struggling. Support can be divided into two categories.

  1. cognitive support, which seeks to alter someone’s way of thinking for longer-lasting healing.
  2. emotional support, which includes warmth and closeness in relationships.

Despite the intrinsic need for help, access to mental healthcare is becoming more and more challenging in the modern world. Friends can be hard to find or live far away.

For these reasons, the new study looked at whether talking to a virtual person could have similar advantages. That is to receive support from a real person.

In Los Angeles, California, 115 volunteers were used by Lisanne S. Pauw and colleagues, who found them on Craigslist. Each participant talked to a virtual person about their emotions of anger or worry. So, the virtual person offered either cognitive or emotional assistance.

Participants took part in this experiment face-to-face with Julie, a virtual person. Although it wasn’t made clear if Julie was autonomous or not, the participants were persuaded to believe she was.

Participants were asked to think back on a situation that frightened or infuriated them, and then they had to respond to questions about it. They would then talk to Julie, an avatar who seemed to be sitting in a therapy environment, after recalling.

An experiment showing how to subdue negative emotions with an avatar

Beginning with general inquiries, the researcher in charge of “Julie” would then prompt about the situation that had just occurred before offering either cognitive or emotional support.

Participants had two talks with Julie, performed the pretest and posttest assessments twice, and finished with demographic and control questions.


The results showed that participants appeared to benefit from speaking with the virtual person. Participants’ moods improved and their levels of anger and worry decreased after chatting with Julie.

Participants had similar degrees of distress reduction with both emotional and cognitive support, and Julie’s intervention was as effective for those who remembered feeling angry as it was for those who remembered feeling worried.

In both settings of emotional and cognitive support, participants felt a connection to Julie in their relationships.

34.5% of subjects in the emotional support condition and 43.1% of subjects in the cognitive support condition said they would like to speak with Julie again after the test while the researcher collected their payment.

Between groups, this difference was not substantial.

The researchers concluded that “together, our results attest to the potential of virtual people in supporting healthy coping.”

“These results imply that virtual humans may have a special ability to lessen sharers’ resistance to cognitive assistance, a type of help that is frequently opposed by sharers but is thought to be important for an efficient long-term recovery.”

“Therefore, even if we do not think of virtual humans as a replacement for actual people, we do come to the conclusion that they might be a useful supplement for those who occasionally lack the proper assistance from family members or medical professionals.”


Limitations of the study

This study made substantial progress in determining whether people could gain psychological advantages from seeking support from a virtual person, which can be highly helpful in boosting access to care.

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Despite this, there are some drawbacks to be aware of. One such limitation is the lack of a control condition to compare the results to, which leaves open the possibility that talking just assisted the participants.

Another drawback is that this research only examines the short-term impacts of receiving assistance from a virtual person; future studies might look at the long-term consequences.

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