Diana Illencik authors an article in New Media & Society about mental health experiences with the popular social chatbot application Replika

Congratulations to Diana Illencik for hitting the ground running and achieving her first publication a mere two months into graduate school. She is a co-author on a paper that will be published in New Media & Society, which has an impact factor above 5. The title and abstract appear below. Congrats Diana!

Title: Too Human and Not Human Enough: A Grounded Theory Analysis of Mental Health Harms from Emotional Dependence on the Social Chatbot Replika

Abstract:
Social chatbot applications offering social companionship and basic therapy tools have grown in popularity for emotional, social, and psychological support. While use appears to offer mental health benefits, few studies unpack the potential for harms. Our grounded theory study analyzes mental health experiences with the popular social chatbot application Replika. We identified mental health relevant posts made in the r/Replika Reddit community between 2017 and 2021 (n=581). We find evidence of harms that are facilitated via emotional dependence on Replika, which resemble patterns seen in human-human relationships. Unlike other forms of technology dependency, this dependency is marked by role-taking, whereby users believed that Replika had its own needs and emotions to which the user must attend. While prior research suggests human-chatbot and human-human interactions may not resemble each other, we identify the social and technological factors that promote parallels and suggest ways to balance the benefits and risks of social chatbots.