One voice does not fit all when it comes to virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, according to a team led by Penn State researchers that examined how customization and perceived similarity between user and voice assistant (VA) personalities affect user experience. They found a strong preference for extroverted VAs — those that speak louder, faster and in a lower pitch. They also found that increasing personality similarity by automatically matching user and VA voice profiles encouraged users to resist persuasive information, such as misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. In the study, 38% of unvaccinated individuals changed their minds about vaccination after listening to vaccine misinformation shared by a virtual assistant.
The findings may have implications for ways to increase user resistance to misinformation, according to the researchers. They reported their findings in the current issue of the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.
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“Our study shows that when users interact with a voice assistant that is similar to their personality, they think more highly of the service provided by it,” said S. Shyam Sundar, study co-author and the James P. Jimirro Professor of Media Effects at Penn State.
The researchers found that users who perceived the voice assistant’s personality to be similar to their own, regardless of whether it actually was, rated the VA as more socially and intellectually attractive. Users also indicated it was more trustworthy.
"This tendency to equate perceived similarity to credibility was more pronounced among those who customized their experience by choosing a preferred voice for the assistant,” Sundar said.
Personality similarity also made users more resistant to information coming from the voice assistant.
“The greater number of unvaccinated individuals paired with matching VA personalities changing their mind about vaccination was a counterintuitive finding,” said lead author Eugene C. Snyder, assistant professor of humanities and social sciences at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. “People often show resistance to persuasive attempts by information sources, like pundits or social media influencers. For the unvaccinated study participants, being faced with misinformation from a VA similar to themselves may have created a kind of resistance. However, further work is needed to clarify this reaction since unvaccinated individuals were a minority in our sample, accounting for 27% of study participants.”
“Our study shows that when users interact with a voice assistant that is similar to their personality, they think more highly of the service provided by it.”
S. Shyam Sundar, James P. Jimirro Professor of Media Effects