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Emotional bond with AI chatbot similar to traditional therapy



People develop an emotional bond with a chatbot in much the same way as they do with a human therapist, according to new research.

Researchers evaluated 1,205 users of the Wysa app who were experiencing measured symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Wysa is a mobile chatbot that uses emotionally intelligent, conversational AI to promote wellbeing and emotional resilience.

The chatbot guides users through evidence-based exercises to manage mild to moderate anxiety and depression.

The peer-reviewed research showed that after five days of using Wysa, ‘therapeutic alliance’ was as good as or better than scores found in traditional in-person cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), in-person group therapy and internet-based tools for CBT.

Therapeutic reliance is the collaboration between patients and therapist as well as the emotional bond.

Clare Beatty, Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, said:

“While digital interventions offer novel solutions for closing the treatment gap in mental health care, they are often associated with relatively poor adoption and adherence.

“One reason that there is poor engagement and adherence may be an insufficient therapeutic alliance.

“I was so excited to find that individuals expressed gratitude for the chatbot and disclosed feelings of honesty, safety, and comfort with the chatbot.

“This is a critical time in our world and I am excited that our findings support efforts to make digital care with a chatbot a viable solution for people struggling with mental health concerns.”

A study published in December found that patients were more likely to discuss highly stigmatised conditions with an AI than with their GP.

However, for severe conditions such as cancer, they were less likely to use AI tools.

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