The Impact of AI Chatbots on Kids’ Self-Talk. Harnessing Superpowers for Self-Love

Have you ever wished you could harness the powers of a superhero to tackle life’s challenges? What if the real superpower was not the ability to fly or move objects with your mind, but the capacity to shape your thoughts and emotions? That’s exactly what a team of researchers at the University of Washington (UW) have been exploring. So, buckle up and get ready for a fascinating journey into the realm of artificial intelligence, superheroes, and something incredibly important – positive self-talk.

The Superhero Teaching Kids to Talk Positively to Themselves

Imagine having a personal superhero guide, leading you on a journey of self-discovery. Sounds like a dream come true, right? That’s exactly what’s happening in an innovative project by the UW researchers. They’ve created an audio chatbot designed to teach children the power of positive self-talk through the adventures of a superhero named Zip.

In a world where Siri and Alexa have become household names, the team at UW has pushed the boundaries of AI to create a web app aimed at fostering self-awareness and emotional management skills among children.

The Power of Positive Self-Talk

You might be wondering, why focus on self-talk? Well, it turns out that what we say to ourselves, whether out loud or in our minds, can have a profound impact on our lives. From improving performance in sports to increasing self-esteem and reducing the risk of depression, positive self-talk has shown a range of benefits for children.

A Chatbot with a Mission – Teaching Emotional Skills

The chatbot guides pairs of siblings through interactive lessons where they encounter stories about Zip and his encounters with other characters, including a supervillain. The aim? To get the children to reflect on these situations and apply the lessons to their own lives. The results were promising. After just a week of using the app, most children could not only explain what supportive self-talk was, but they were also able to use it in their everyday lives.

Turning Negative Self-Talk into Positive Self-Talk

What’s even more impressive is that children who had previously engaged in negative self-talk were able to transform that habit into a positive one by the end of the study. And we’re not just talking about a couple of kids here; every single child who admitted to negative self-talk before the study turned it around.

The Role of Siblings in the Study

Now, you may be wondering why the app was designed for pairs of siblings. Well, research has shown that children are more likely to engage when using technology with another person. In this study, ten pairs of siblings were put to the test. While the siblings’ involvement did indeed support learning in some cases, it did bring up the age-old issue of turn-taking, leading to a few sibling squabbles along the way.

The Future of Socio-emotional Learning

While the results of this study are undeniably promising, it’s important to note that the research is still in its early stages. The team at UW is looking to take the project even further, exploring the integration of large language models into their prototype and working on ways to make the app accessible to a wider audience.

The ‘Sesame Street’ Experience for a Smart Speaker

If we were to summarize the essence of this project, it would be something along these lines: creating a ‘Sesame Street’ experience for a smart speaker. The aim is to design an interactive and educational space for kids to practice socioemotional skills, all while ensuring children’s privacy is safeguarded.

Making a Positive Impact on Children’s Lives

So, what can we take away from all of this? It seems that superheroes, AI, and positive self-talk make for an effective combination. The team at the University of Washington have shown that by harnessing the power of technology and a bit of creativity, we can help children cultivate essential socioemotional skills.

The next time you catch your kids chatting with Siri or Alexa, take a moment to reflect on the potential of these interactions. Who knows, they could be learning to become their own superheroes, mastering the power of positive self-talk. After all, who doesn’t need a bit of superhero strength from time to time?

Yue Fu, Mingrui Zhang, Lynn K Nguyen, Yifan Lin, Rebecca Michelson, Tala June Tayebi, Alexis Hiniker. Self-Talk with Superhero Zip: Supporting Children’s Socioemotional Learning with Conversational Agents. Interaction Design and Children Conference, 2023 Link