It may be easy to carry on a conversation with Siri on your iPhone or your Google assistant from your living room as they can help fill a void when you feel lonely.
But, according to a new study, these humanlike products keep people from seeking out normal human interaction — which is typically how people try to recover from loneliness — thus negatively affecting their social needs.
“Generally, when people feel socially excluded, they seek out other ways of compensating, like exaggerating their number of Facebook friends or engaging in prosocial behaviours to seek out interaction with other people,” said Jenny Olson, assistant professor at the University of Kansas in the US.
“However, when you introduce a human-like product, those compensatory behaviours stop,” Olson rued.
The study, published the in the Journal of Consumer Research, showed evidence that people who felt socially excluded would exhibit these compensating behaviours unless they were given the opportunity to interact with an anthropomorphic product.
In the study, the participants were asked to play an online game of “catch” in which other participants who were computerised, unknown to them.
After engaging with a Roomba vacuum whose design made it seem like it was smiling or when asked to think about their cellphone in humanlike terms, participants would not feel the need to plan to spend time talking to family or friends, the researchers noted.
Nevertheless, the ability for these products to replace human contact has its limits because certain statements seemed to snap participants back to reality.
“As soon as we tell people we know that it looks like the Roomba is smiling, they seemed to realise it was a machine and not a person,” Olson said.
“The effect goes away. This seems to be happening on a very subconscious level,” he added.
The research could be important for consumers to realise how these types of products could thwart their motivation to interact with real people, especially because so many new products feature interactivity.