Do people act differently around conversational interfaces when they’re in public?

Conversational interfaces Research


People interact with conversational interfaces (CIs) differently when they are with friends than when they are surrounded by strangers. They also interact with stories that they know differently with new content. Men and women interact with CIs differently when they are in public and around either friends or strangers.

What did they do?

The researchers looked at how people interacted with an art exhibit that integrated a CI through a tablet that could be used by multiple people. The exhibit was based on well-known characters from Machado de Assis’s novel Dom Casmurro. They recorded what people did when they were alone and when they were with people (friends or strangers) and they recorded what people said to the CI. More specifically, they divided the participants into 4 categories:

  • Alone
  • With friends
  • With strangers (that were waiting in the queue)
  • With strangers (using the tablet together)

They also had brief interviews to better understand some of the participants once they had interacted with the art exhibit.

What did they find?

Users who had previous knowledge about the story thought that characters included them in their conversation when there were people around them (friends and strangers). Users who knew about the story and were watched by strangers they thought characters could talk about any subject, not just the script from the story. It seems like knowing the story and being watched made the conversational interface seem more social. There were also differences between how men and women understood the boundaries of the CI’s conversation when they were around strangers. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, men “behaved better” with the CI when they weren’t being watched by friends. Men were also more likely to ask questions that were within the context of the exhibit when they were watched by strangers. They also found that when the CI had a failure, people were less likely to address it when they were with friends.

So what?

The researchers made the following recommendations for conversational designers creating interfaces that will be used either in public spaces or using well-known characters:

Consider the user’s previous knowledge of content as it tends to affect the social interaction with machines, in particular when users have audiences.

Consider that the presence of strangers in a queue waiting to interact with a physical conversational system may affect how users will experience the system.

Consider gender effects when crafting public interactions with conversational systems, including how to handle answers to out of scope questions.

Consider tailoring and using direct address in some cases of chatbot utterances according to the presence of an audience. In general, chatbots should use the direct address, such as vocatives or pronouns, to acknowledge either all the participants in the audience or should not use them.

Article citation

Candello, H., Pinhanez, C., Pichiliani, M., Cavalin, P., Figueiredo, F., Vasconcelos, M., & Do Carmo, H. (2019, May). The effect of audiences on the user experience with conversational interfaces in physical spaces. In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1-13). Full article.