People Respond to Computer's Flattery

Humans love flattery so much they warm to it even when it comes from a computer, and even when they don't realize it's occurring.

Researchers built head-and-shoulders computer agents, then had them present an argument to various study subjects. In some cases, the computer agent's head movements mimicked the listener on a four-second delay.

Listeners who were mimicked viewed the robots as more persuasive than the other listeners did. Yet, interestingly, they did not realized they were being mimicked.

The work, led by Stanford University communications professor Jeremy Bailenson, revealed something else that marketers might consider latching onto:

"Participants interacting with mimicking agents on average did not turn their heads such that the agents was outside of their view," Bailenson and his colleague, Nick Yee, write in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Listeners who were not being mimicked sometimes turned their heads away from the computer agent.