Chatbots -- those little text boxes that pop on our screens while we’re online shopping or searching a website – have a key role to play in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. Alan Dennis, Antino Kim, and others found that chatbots can offer trusted guidance to people with COVID-19 symptoms and ease the burden on medical providers. In an online experiment, participants reported that they viewed chatbots used by reputable providers as no different, and in some cases more positive, than humans, which is good news for health care organizations struggling to meet user demand for screening services. The researchers say the positive response may be because users feel more comfortable disclosing information to a chatbot, which makes no judgment. The COVID-19 outbreak has provoked social stigma and discriminatory behaviors against people of certain ethnic backgrounds as well as those perceived to have been in contact with the virus. Because of this stigma, chatbots may make it easier for those who are hesitant to seek help.
In other research from IU’s Kelley School of Business, a new study titled “This Job Is (Literally) Killing Me” has revealed a direct link between autonomy at work and life expectancy. Erik Gonzalez-Mulé and others found that whether we’re working from home or returning to jobs post-shutdown, our ability to set our own goals and priorities and decide how to do our work can improve our health. But when job demands are greater than our ability to deal with those demands, our mental health deteriorates and likelihood of death increases. When we work in environments in which we have little control, work stressors such as time pressure and workloads are more likely to cause depression and death. The researchers say that in the already stressful environment caused by COVID-19, job managers should their best not to add to the stress. Considering reducing work hours or job demands and allowing employees autonomy to make decisions about their work can lead to a healthier workforce.