The workplace provides opportunity for social interaction and a sense of belonging for employees, often fulfilled by connecting with colleagues. However, as people increasingly interact with artificial intelligence, it invites the question of how this impacts the fulfillment of social needs or feelings of loneliness. New research (Tang et al., 2023) explores how interactions with AI may deplete people socially, which can lead to either adaptive responses, such as increased helping behavior, or maladaptive responses, such as insomnia and drinking after work.
THE RESEARCH STUDY
The researchers utilized multiple methodologies and samples from different countries to test their hypotheses. They predicted that AI interactions may leave people feeling unfilled socially, because AI cannot replicate human-like social interactions such as facial expressions and eye contact. In turn, this may lead to employees feeling lonelier and lacking in their affiliation needs. When this happens, the researchers predicted that employees may react adaptively by seeking out opportunities for human affiliation, such as helping someone else. However, employees could also react maladaptively, where loneliness leads to insomnia and alcoholic consumption.
The researchers largely found support for these hypotheses across four studies. Interestingly, they found that the relationship between AI interactions and need for affiliation and loneliness was especially pronounced for people with higher attachment anxiety. These people feel insecure in their relationships, so AI interactions made them feel especially at risk of missing out on the social fulfillment they desired.
Organizations should be aware of the social implications of AI implementation at work. Because AI increased feelings of loneliness, organizations should combat this by offering ample opportunities for human interaction. Organizations should also be careful when implementing AI systems so that employees are not overloaded with predominantly AI interactions. Lastly, although there were some adaptive responses that resulted from AI social deprivation, the researchers caution that organizations should not implement AI as a means of eliciting helping behaviors, since there were also negative outcomes such as insomnia and drinking that can negatively impact employee wellbeing.
Tang, P. M., Koopman, J., Mai, K. M., De Cremer, D., Zhang, J. H., Reynders, P., Ng, C. T. S., & Chen, I-H. (2023). No person is an island: Unpacking the work and after-work consequences of interacting with artificial intelligence. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.
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