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Friend, mentor, lover: does chatbot engagement lead to psychological dependence?

Tianling Xie (Department of Information, Operations, and Technology Management, The University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio, USA)
Iryna Pentina (Department of Marketing and International Business, The University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio, USA)
Tyler Hancock (Department of Marketing and International Business, The University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio, USA)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 10 May 2023

Issue publication date: 27 June 2023

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to explore customer-artificial intelligence (AI) service technology engagement and relationship development drivers, as well as potential negative consequences in the context of social chatbots.

Design/methodology/approach

A sequential mixed-method approach combined exploratory qualitative and confirmatory quantitative analyses. A conceptual model developed from Study 1 qualitative content analysis of in-depth interviews with active users of the AI social chatbot Replika was tested in Study 2 by analyzing survey data obtained from current Replika users.

Findings

Loneliness, trust and chatbot personification drive consumer engagement with social chatbots, which fosters relationship development and has the potential to cause chatbot psychological dependence. Attachment to a social chatbot intensifies the positive role of engagement in relationship development with the chatbot.

Originality/value

This study was the first to combine qualitative and quantitative approaches to explore drivers, boundary conditions and consequences of relationship and dependence formation with social chatbots. The authors proposed and empirically tested a novel theoretical model that revealed an engagement-based mechanism of relationship and dependence formation with social chatbots.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This paper forms part of a special section “Human-Robot Service Interactions: Moral, Ethical and Well-Being Implications”, guest edited by Nichola Robertson and Yelena Tsarenko.

Citation

Xie, T., Pentina, I. and Hancock, T. (2023), "Friend, mentor, lover: does chatbot engagement lead to psychological dependence?", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 34 No. 4, pp. 806-828. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOSM-02-2022-0072

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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