Employees who have frequent interaction with artificial intelligence systems are more likely to be lonely.
Research published by the American Psychological Association found that the loneliness experienced by the employees could lead to insomnia as well as after work drinking.
“The study findings don’t surprise me at all given our innate need and desire for interactions with other humans. When we replace human contact with artificial intelligence contact, our natural, healthy desire for human interaction simply won’t be satiated,” Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist based in California who was not involved in the research, told Theravive.
“Human interaction in the workplace is critical, especially given that many people live alone and don’t have sufficient social or family support. As people have become more mobile, the family system—once a critical source of connection and mental health support—is often not readily available; social interactions in the workplace are often the major source of connection for those who feel isolated and alone. When human interaction in the workplace is supplanted by AI interaction, the cost to mental and physical health can be extremely high.”
The research is based on four experiments that took place in the United States, Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia.
In one experiment, 166 engineers working in Taiwan who work with AI systems were surveyed about their feelings of loneliness, sense of belonging and any attachment anxiety over a three week period.
The researchers found that the engineers who interacted with an AI system more frequently were more likely to experience insomnia as well as loneliness. They also experienced an increase in alcohol consumption after work.
The study authors emphasize that the findings of their research are correlational and don’t definitively prove that working with an AI system causes loneliness, insomnia or an increase in after work drinking. But there is an association between these things.
“Loneliness can increase depression, foster anxiety, and lead to low self-worth. As well, those who are lonely often turn to alcohol and other substances to ease their feelings of loneliness. In addition, those who struggle with loneliness may increasingly retreat from life, and this can cause a reduction in self-care (e.g., reduced exercise and joyful experiences) that further harms overall well-being,” Manly, who is also the author of Joy from Fear, told Theravive.
But the researchers found that there were some benefits to working with AI. The employees studied who frequently interacted with AI were more likely to help their fellow employees.
Manly says that although technology can at times lead to loneliness and isolation, it can also be a great source of connection.
“Although physical proximity and in-person connection are ideal for reducing loneliness, technology does give us options. Technology has, in some ways, created distance between humans, yet it can also be harnessed to foster connections. For example, you can stay connected to friends through apps that allow for video sharing of the daily ins and outs of life. Taking a walk “with” a friend can be done by Facetime, and cooking can be done “together” by Zoom or other venues,’ she said.
“If you don’t have colleagues to chat with during work hours, create other opportunities for social interaction. Life is easier when you have ready-made connections at work, but it’s always worth the extra effort to foster healthy connections wherever you can find them, be it taking up a new hobby, engaging in a community class, or finding a MeetUp group that feels enticing.”
But she argues AI isn’t necessarily either good or bad for a person’s mental health, it is how it is used that matters most.
“We can protect our mental health from the negative influences of AI by creating healthy boundaries around our use and interactions with AI. AI isn’t necessarily “good” or “bad,” it’s how we utilize AI that will create either positive or negative effects,” Manly said.
“When it comes to AI use, I recommend the “less is better” approach—particularly in light of the significant research that underscores our need for in-person human interactions. Be mindful in your use of AI and technology in general. If your gut instinct tells you it’s time for human interaction, listen to what your wise self is telling you!”