Chatbots could play a key role in helping people with issues around their health and wellbeing, according to a new study from academics at the University of Sheffield.
The study, led by Dr. Matthew Bennion from the University’s Department of Computer Science, argues that chatbots are an under-used resource and could be used to help more people talk through their issues.
While physical distancing measures are still in place and many health and support services have paused face-to-face meetings and are operating with reduced numbers of staff, the new research highlights how effective chatbots can be in helping to solve problems or deliver therapy now and also once the physical distancing measures are lifted.
Published in the journal JMIR, the study also reveals that many chatbots are primarily being used to serve younger people.
However, results from the study show that people over the age of 65 have found chatbots useful and are willing to use them again to help address a problem.
The research compared the system usability, acceptability and effectiveness of two chatbots. One being a web-based adaptation of ELIZA, a chatbot originally developed in 1966, and the other MYLO—a chatbot developed by Dr. Warren Mansell at the University of Manchester.
When using MYLO, a user describes a current problem and the software then scans their text responses to ask curious questions designed to help them explore the problem in more depth and detail to reach their own solution.
MYLO uses a psychotherapeutic approach known as Method of Levels. The approach aims to keep patients focusing on their problem for a long enough period of time that they develop awareness of their internal conflict and generate new perspectives with the hope they’ll make the necessary changes they need to resolve the conflict.