Female AI 'teammate' generates more participation from women

June 16, 2024

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Female AI 'teammate' generates more participation from women

An artificial intelligence-powered virtual teammate with a female voice boosts participation and productivity among women on teams dominated by men, according to new research.

The findings suggest that the gender of an AI’s voice can positively tweak the dynamics of gender-imbalanced teams and could help inform the design of bots used for human-AI teamwork, researchers said.

What the researchers say: “The findings mirror previous research that shows minority teammates are more likely to participate if the team adds members similar to them,” said the lead author of the paper.

To better understand how AI can help gender-imbalanced teams the researchers carried out an experiment with around 180 men and women who were assigned to groups of three and asked to collaborate virtually on a set of tasks (the study only included participants who identified as either male or female).

Each group had either one woman or one man and a fourth agent in the form of an abstract shape with either a male or female voice, which would appear on screen and read instructions, contribute an idea and handle timekeeping. There was a catch – the bot wasn’t completely automated. In what’s referred to in human-computer interaction as a “Wizard of Oz” experiment, thew researchers were behind the scenes, feeding lines generated by ChatGPT into the bot.

After the experiment they analyzed the chat logs of team conversations to determine how often participants offered ideas or arguments. They also asked participants to reflect on the experience.

“When we looked at participants’ actual behaviors, that’s where we started to see differences between men and women and how they were reacting when there was either a female agent or a male agent on the team,” the lead author said.

“One interesting thing about this study is that most participants didn’t express a preference for a male- or female-sounding voice,” she explained. “This implies that people’s social inferences about AI can be influential even when people don’t believe they are important.”

When women were in the minority, they participated more when the AI’s voice was female, while men in the minority were more talkative but were less focused on tasks when working with a male-sounding bot, researchers found. Unlike the men, women reported significantly more positive perceptions of the AI teammate when women were the minority members, according to researchers.

“With only a gendered voice, the AI agent can provide a small degree of support to women minority members in a group,” the lead author concluded.

So, what? I think that the main interest in this study was the reaction of the men and not the women—which was pretty predictable. Adding a male voice made the men “more talkative” and less focused on tasks.

In terms of our design specs this is understandable. Humans are not task or goal-focused animals. Yet men have been socialized to be more goal and task orientated than women, who are supposed to be more relationship orientated. We are also process animals who do best when we collaborate with those that we enjoy working with and with whom we have a lot in common—in other words when  we enjoy the process of what we’re doing. Allowing men to be more talkative and less task-focused adds to the sum of their happiness and, incidentally, to their longevity.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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