Ranjbartabar, H. (2016). A virtual emotional freedom practitioner to deliver physical and emotional therapy (Master’s thesis, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia).
Link to .pdf of unpublished research (Master’s thesis, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)
The role of virtual humans in a range of health scenarios, including therapy and counselling, is being explored as a substitute for human therapists and counsellors. This research study investigates the potential benefits of a virtual practitioner to deliver the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). EFT is a kind of psychological acupressure technique to optimize emotional and physical health. Importantly, our study compares two different types of virtual therapists; one that exhibits empathic behaviour and another that delivers the therapy in a neutral manner. Our experimental design, consisting of one within-subjects factor (empathic/neutral therapist) and one between-subjects factor (order), measured the differences in emotional outcomes and sense of rapport. Our evaluation with 63 participants showed benefits for both virtual therapists. While both therapists achieved the same level of rapport, when order was taken into account, the empathic agent received higher ratings for sense of rapport in the second interaction. We conclude that with increased tailoring, the empathic agent would create a stronger sense of rapport than the neutral agent. It remains an open question whether increased tailoring and more empathic behaviours, would result in significant improvements in the emotional benefits delivered by an empathic agent over a neutral and less tailored agent.