Changing stigmatizing attitudes to mental health via education and contact with embodied conversational agents

Joel Sebastian, Deborah Richards*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Educating society concerning stigmatized conditions, such as the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa (AN), aims to change attitudes that will encourage individuals with AN to recognize their condition and decide to seek help. Embodied Conversational Agents (ECAs) may play an important role in bringing about changes in attitude and behavior because they potentially allow tailored but anonymous, free and convenient access and can deliver the information in a conversational way that overcomes health literacy barriers. In this first study we compare the use of an ECA with a video to deliver two strategies (education and contact) to address stigma around the mental health condition of Anorexia Nervosa (AN). Our results with 245 participants show that both media (ECA and video) aided recognition of AN and produced significant changes in positive volitional stigma and negative volitional stigma but not in traditional stigma (desire for social distance), with some notable differences based on gender. Baseline data was used in place of a control group and the sample population was undergraduate Psychology students due to higher incidences of AN in this population. Further validation is needed involving a control group and testing on populations other than Psychology students. Nevertheless, these initial results encourage our future work to build tailored ECAs to challenge particular beliefs to support a wide range of educational interventions to change behaviors and improve decision-making relating to health and wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-488
Number of pages10
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Volume73
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017

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Keywords

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Embodied conversational agents
  • Stigmatizing attitudes
  • Traditional stigma
  • Volitional stigma

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