Attachment Theory as a Framework to Understand Relationships with Social Chatbots: A Case Study of Replika

Xie, Tianling
Pentina, Iryna
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With increasing adoption of AI social chatbots, especially during the pandemic-related lockdowns, when people lack social companionship, there emerges a need for in-depth understanding and theorizing of relationship formation with digital conversational agents. Following the grounded theory approach, we analyzed in-depth interview transcripts obtained from 14 existing users of AI companion chatbot Replika. The emerging themes were interpreted through the lens of the attachment theory. Our results show that under conditions of distress and lack of human companionship, individuals can develop an attachment to social chatbots if they perceive the chatbots’ responses to offer emotional support, encouragement, and psychological security. These findings suggest that social chatbots can be used for mental health and therapeutic purposes but have the potential to cause addiction and harm real-life intimate relationships.
Social Robots - Robotics and Toy Computing, artificial intelligence, attachment theory, case study, replika, social chatbot
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