Unveiling the Power of AI: Bridging Divides and Fostering Understanding

Explore how conversational AI facilitates electronic contact (E-contact), aiming to reduce intergroup prejudice and anxiety in conflict-affected contexts.
Unveiling the Power of AI: Bridging Divides and Fostering Understanding

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In today's interconnected world, bridging divides between different social groups is more important than ever. Intergroup contact, as proposed by Gordon W. Allport in 1954, has long been recognized as a powerful tool for reducing prejudice and fostering understanding. Allport's contact hypothesis posits that under conditions such as equal status, common goals, intergroup cooperation, and support of authorities, law, or customs, interpersonal interaction could reduce prejudice between majority and minority group members. Electronic contact, or E-contact, a more recent development, is a form of intergroup contact conducted electronically or over the internet. It has gained prominence in research for its potential to overcome barriers such as geographical distance.

Against the backdrop of ethnic tensions that have a long history in Afghanistan, exacerbated by the fall of the government in 2021 and the new administration's policies, navigating the complexities of conducting intergroup contact experiments in this conflict-ridden region became even more challenging. We recognized the limitations of traditional face-to-face interactions and had to consider E-contact as an alternative. However, this option also had its challenges. Unstructured and unsupervised intergroup contacts can escalate anxiety and stereotypes. Finding trustworthy human intermediaries from both groups to manage and mediate E-contact is also extremely difficult in such contexts. To address this challenge, we proposed using interactive AI agents or conversational AI to facilitate E-contact. Conversational AI, or conversational artificial intelligence, refers to AI-powered systems capable of engaging in human-like conversations.

To evaluate the impact of conversational AI facilitation on intergroup prejudice and anxiety reduction, we employed a randomized controlled trial (RCT) study design. We recruited 128 participants from three ethnic groups of Afghanistan (Hazara, Pashtun, and Tajik) and formed discussion groups of four participants, two Pashtun and two non-Pashtun (Hazara, Tajik), to discuss themes requiring teamwork. Participants were randomly assigned to either a conversational AI-facilitated group or a control group without conversational AI facilitation. The discussions took place across two sessions: a synchronous discussion lasting two hours and an asynchronous discussion spanning three days. Three surveys were administered at three time points: before the discussions (Time 1), after the synchronous discussion (Time 2), and after the asynchronous discussion (Time 3). These surveys measured intergroup prejudice and intergroup anxiety using validated scales.

The results revealed a significant reduction in intergroup prejudice and anxiety among participants in groups facilitated by conversational AI compared to those in the control group without such facilitation. Furthermore, participants in the conversational AI-facilitated groups exhibited higher engagement, contributing more ideas and expressing longer opinions. These results suggest that the presence of a conversational AI in E-contact settings can lead to more fruitful intergroup interactions, emphasizing the potential of conversational AIs in mitigating prejudice and fostering constructive dialogue.

These findings have implications for intergroup relations, showing how conversational AIs can reshape intergroup contact. We plan to explore the comparative effectiveness of human facilitators versus conversational AIs, providing insights into their influence on participant outcomes and group dynamics.

Our research journey was not without its challenges, as navigating the socio-political landscape of Afghanistan presented unique obstacles. However, these challenges provided valuable lessons, reinforcing the importance of adaptability and resilience in research endeavors. We learned that while technology can be a powerful tool for fostering intergroup understanding, its effectiveness hinges on careful design and implementation.

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Social Psychology
Humanities and Social Sciences > Behavioral Sciences and Psychology > Social Psychology

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