Relational Agents are computer agents designed to form long-term, social-emotional relationships with their users. We are investigating the use of these agents in task domains in which human-agent relationships actually improve task outcomes, such as in coaching, counseling, psychotherapy and healthcare.

Computer Agents to Promote Walking in Older Adults with Low Health Literacy

Relational Agents represent an especially effective modality for educating and motivating older adults and other individuals with low reading, health or computer literacy, given the agents' intuitive emulation of face-to-face conversation and the engagement and social bonding afforded by their use of relational behavior such as social dialog, empathy and humor.

In a recently completed pilot study, participants recruited from the Geriatric Ambulatory Practice at Boston Medical Center who used a Relational Agent exercise coach daily for two months performed significantly more walking compared to a non-intervention control group drawn from the same practice.

In collaboration with the Geriatrics Section at Boston University School of Medicine, the Geriatrics Ambulatory Practice at Boston Medical Center, and Prof. Abby King at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, this pilot study is being scaled up to a randomized clinical trial involving 270 patients over 4 years. This study is being funded by the NIH National Institute on Aging.