Avatars encourage us to spill our secrets, says study

Many of us only talk to our computers when we’ve got something negative to say, like when the internet goes down again and we unleash a few phrases that might not be strictly PG. But slap a vaguely human face on that sucker, and apparently we’ll tell it anything it asks.

A new U.S study has found that computer avatars are more effective at extracting information from job applicants than existing techniques. Turns out, the American military has a facility focused on assessing the accuracy of technology that measures honesty (including polygraphs), called the National Center for Credibility Assessment. Its researchers wanted to know whether applicants for government jobs would spill more about the details of any drug use, illegal activity, or secret coups to a computer or the paper questionnaire that’s already in use.

So, as Gizmodo reports, they created a basic avatar with an automated list of questions about interviewees’ criminal, addiction, and mental health histories and trialled it on 120 Army trainees. They found that the trainees were much more open with the avatar than they had been with a paper questionnaire, in 10% of cases even volunteering additional info after the avatar asked if they had anything to add.

While it’s probably a little sad that people are so desperate to talk to someone that they’ll open up to any machine that looks even vaguely human, the U.S government says this knowledge could save them a lot of money and manpower in the future. And think of the thousands you could save on therapy.

Image via Jared Tarbell’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley