Should Machines Express Sympathy and Empathy? Experiments with a Health Advice Chatbot

Bingjie Liu, S. Shyam Sundar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

205 Scopus citations


When we ask a chatbot for advice about a personal problem, should it simply provide informational support and refrain from offering emotional support? Or, should it show sympathy and empathize with our situation? Although expression of caring and understanding is valued in supportive human communications, do we want the same from a chatbot, or do we simply reject it due to its artificiality and uncanniness? To answer this question, we conducted two experiments with a chatbot providing online medical information advice about a sensitive personal issue. In Study 1, participants (N = 158) simply read a dialogue between a chatbot and a human user. In Study 2, participants (N = 88) interacted with a real chatbot. We tested the effect of three types of empathic expression - sympathy, cognitive empathy, and affective empathy - on individuals' perceptions of the service and the chatbot. Data reveal that expression of sympathy and empathy is favored over unemotional provision of advice, in support of the Computers are Social Actors (CASA) paradigm. This is particularly true for users who are initially skeptical about machines possessing social cognitive capabilities. Theoretical, methodological, and practical implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)625-636
Number of pages12
JournalCyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Applied Psychology
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Science Applications


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