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Influencing human–AI interaction by priming beliefs about AI can increase perceived trustworthiness, empathy and effectiveness

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As conversational agents powered by large language models become more human-like, users are starting to view them as companions rather than mere assistants. Our study explores how changes to a person’s mental model of an AI system affects their interaction with the system. Participants interacted with the same conversational AI, but were influenced by different priming statements regarding the AI’s inner motives: caring, manipulative or no motives. Here we show that those who perceived a caring motive for the AI also perceived it as more trustworthy, empathetic and better-performing, and that the effects of priming and initial mental models were stronger for a more sophisticated AI model. Our work also indicates a feedback loop in which the user and AI reinforce the user’s mental model over a short time; further work should investigate long-term effects. The research highlights the importance of how AI systems are introduced can notably affect the interaction and how the AI is experienced.

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Fig. 1: A visual summary of the experiment and major findings of our paper.
Fig. 2: A heatmap comparing participants’ assigned motive primer and the motive they perceived the AI agent as having for the generative condition (N = 160).
Fig. 3: Trends of VADER sentiment for each message over the course of conversations on average.
Fig. 4: Results of participant (N = 160 for generative, N = 150 for rule-based) ratings on Likert scales relating to trust, empathy and perceived effectiveness.
Fig. 5: Survey responses for trust-, empathy- and effectiveness-related questions versus AI attitude (N = 160).

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Data availability

The raw data are available on a GitHub repository, including all survey results and conversation transcripts. Source Data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The code is available on the same GitHub repository as the data. The doi for the code is The repository includes data processing and visualization code as well as the HTML/CSS/Javascript code for the chatbot interface. The API codes to access GPT-3 and Google Sheets are retracted, and would need to be replaced to run the code.


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Our paper benefited greatly from the valuable feedback provided by the reviewers, and we extend our gratitude for their contribution. We thank J. Liu, data science specialist at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Harvard University, for reviewing our statistical analysis. We would like to thank M. Groh, Z. Epstein, N. Whitmore, S. Chan, Z. Yan and the MIT Media Lab Fluid Interfaces group members for reviewing and giving constructive feedback on our paper. We would like to thank MIT Media Lab and KBTG for supporting P. Pataranutaporn, and the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology, and Accenture for supporting R.L.

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Authors and Affiliations



P.P. and R.L. contributed equally to this work. They conceived the research idea, designed and conducted experiments, analysed and interpreted data, and participated in writing and editing the paper. P.M. and E.F. provided supervision and guidance throughout the project, and contributed to the writing and reviewing of the paper. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Pat Pataranutaporn or Ruby Liu.

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Nature Machine Intelligence thanks Sangsu Lee and the other, anonymous reviewer(s), for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Jacob Huth, in collaboration with the Nature Machine Intelligence team.

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Supplementary Sections 1–3 and Figs. 1–5.

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Source data

Source Data Fig. 2

The assigned group and perceived motives for each participant in the GPT-3 experiment.

Source Data Fig. 3

Processed conversation data, GPT-3 and ELIZA combined.

Source Data Fig. 4

Processed survey data, GPT-3 and ELIZA combined.

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Pataranutaporn, P., Liu, R., Finn, E. et al. Influencing human–AI interaction by priming beliefs about AI can increase perceived trustworthiness, empathy and effectiveness. Nat Mach Intell 5, 1076–1086 (2023).

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