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Virtual assistants could be used for life coaching

Life coaching, a process in which an expert helps a person identify and achieve his or her most important personal and professional goals, is becoming increasingly trendy. Such support is also used by groups and companies. Recently, a research team led by Pompeu Fabra University, Spain, has investigated the possibility of using virtual life coaches instead of real people.

“Using coaching models, we programmed a conversational agent based only on voice, which would guide people to achieve their goals in the same way that a human coach guides you in your session through questions,” explained study lead author Dr. Laura Aymerich-Franch, a research fellow at Pompeu Fabra University. “In this study we found that, using the application we created, the psychological well-being of the participants improved.”

Dr. Aymerich-Franch and her colleagues created an application called NORIKA, which could be installed on smartphone and operated using a very simple visual interface. In order to test it, the researchers asked 30 participants to work together with NORIKA on deciding which aspects of their lives they wanted to focus on, finding the core values for those specific aspects, identifying a goal based on SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely) criteria, and putting it into practice.

To test the effectiveness of the virtual assistant, the scientists measured variables such as personal growth (Personal Growth Initiative Scale, or PGI), life satisfaction (Life Satisfaction Scale, or SLS), and Implementing the Positive and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS).

“The results revealed a significant increase in PGI and SLS values, and in turn an also significant decrease in negative emotions (PANAS) compared to the status prior to the start of the sessions,” explained Dr. Aymerich-Franch. “This suggests that the coaching program contributed positively to psychological well-being, life satisfaction and personal growth.”

“Everything seems to indicate that [virtual coaches such as NORIKA] will be increasingly present in the home. Although for the moment the conversational agent cannot offer the same abilities and services as a session with a coach or a therapist, it can serve to help eliminate attitudinal barriers that still exist when seeking therapeutic support to improve psychological well-being,” Dr. Aymerich-Franch concluded.

The study is published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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