Journal of the Association for Information Systems


Conversational agents (CAs) are natural language user interfaces that emulate human-to-human communication. Because of this emulation, research on CAs is inseparably linked to questions about anthropomorphism—the attribution of human qualities, including consciousness, intentions, and emotions, to nonhuman agents. Past research has demonstrated that anthropomorphism affects human perception and behavior in human-computer interactions by, for example, increasing trust and connectedness or stimulating social response behaviors. Based on the psychological theory of anthropomorphism and related research on computer interface design, we develop a theoretical framework for designing anthropomorphic CAs. We identify three groups of factors that stimulate anthropomorphism: technology design-related factors, task-related factors, and individual factors. Our findings from an online experiment support the derived framework but also reveal novel yet counterintuitive insights. In particular, we demonstrate that not all combinations of anthropomorphic technology design cues increase perceived anthropomorphism. For example, we find that using only nonverbal cues harms anthropomorphism; however, this effect becomes positive when nonverbal cues are complemented with verbal or human identity cues. We also find that CAs’ disposition to complete computerlike versus humanlike tasks and individuals’ disposition to anthropomorphize greatly affect perceived anthropomorphism. This work advances our understanding of anthropomorphism and contextualizes the theory of anthropomorphism within the IS discipline. We advise on the directions that research and practice should take to find the sweet spot for anthropomorphic CA design.





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