A Personal Connection

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Science  11 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6180, pp. 131
DOI: 10.1126/science.344.6180.131-a

Telephone companies have long used recorded voices, usually female, and many services companies have chosen to confront callers with voice-based menus of options. Personalized assistance became available by means of Siri for iPhone users, and Waytz et al. have now begun to explore the psychological consequences of endowing autonomous vehicles, one of the latest technological innovations to come to market, with a voice. They monitored drivers' physiological status while in a driving simulator operated either by themselves or by an autonomous entity, referred to as Iris, that spoke to the human drivers. Not surprisingly, audio communication increased the sense of liking and of anthropomorphization; it also enhanced feelings of trust—which was measured both by self-reported ratings and by fluctuations in heart rate—under normal driving conditions. Furthermore, in the aftermath of a collision with another car, programmed so as to be unavoidable, drivers were more likely to absolve Iris of blame in comparison to a similar, nonverbal autonomous vehicle. These effects fit neatly into a framework of greater humanization as being reflective of an entity's capacities to carry out actions (agency) and to embody feelings.

J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 52, 113 (2014).

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