The EMU Psychology Department is conducting a new study to test an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot that aims to deliver “evidence-based emotional wellness and coping strategies” to patients.
The department is collaborating with X2AI, the company that created the AI mental health chatbot, “Tess”. Through Tess, users can chat and receive automated messages that provide mental health guidance. According to the company’s website, the conversation starts with “How are you doing?”, and then tries to deliver what a human psychologist would say to the user’s responses.
The research project at EMU is being led by Dr. Karen Saules, a professor in the Psychology Department, and Director of the Community Behavioral Health Clinic, which is in the new IHA health center.
“With the COVID-19 crisis . . . we realized that mental health needs on campus were going to be even greater than they typically are. So, thanks to the interest of X2AI in collaborating on the original study . . . we were able to quickly get a study approved that could offer "Tess" to all students for free, in exchange for providing a small amount of research data,” Saules said in an interview with the Echo.
Saules said that they hoped to learn about who uses Tess, who finds the chatbot effective, and how their usage relates to anxiety over time.
“The advantage of ‘Tess’, relative to other options for mental health support, is that she is available 24/7 for as much interaction as people want,” Saules said.
Tess is available for free to any EMU student who signs up for the study, and it has recently been programmed to address any anxiety related to the COVID-19 crisis.
The concept of machine learning means that Tess will learn over time and make changes to suit each person’s needs. Based on feedback on what guidance has been working and what hasn’t, Tess will adjust it’s methods accordingly. The way Tess interacts with someone will be unique to that person.
“In general, she might offer some tips on relaxation, coping, stress management, how to do some basic mindfulness techniques, and so on.” Saules said.
There isn’t much of a time comittment for those partcipating," Saules explained. “In fact, that's what we are interested in understanding - who goes beyond initial contact to engage more regularly and does it help them? So the only 'commitment’ is to answer a few questions about level of anxiety from time to time, so we can see how it's going. Other than that, what they do is flexible.
Tess is available to all EMU students for free and 24/7 access will be available. No personally identifiable information is collected for the study. Questions should be directed to Dr. Karen Saules at firstname.lastname@example.org and students interested in participating should visit https://redcap.emich.edu/redcap/surveys/?s=PXY4RXMYNH