Can Alexa be your Therapist? How back-channeling transforms smart-speakers to be active listeners

Nasim Motalebi, Eugene Cho, S. Shyam Sundar, Saeed Abdulllah

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

11 Scopus citations


Smart-speakers such as Amazon Alexa are becoming increasingly popular among the general population. These devices support a wide range of user-initiated tasks. However, their current interaction capabilities are limited to quick turn-takings and short dialogues, which leads to limited user engagement. In this project, we aim to enhance the user engagement and interaction abilities of a smart-speaker by transforming it into an active listener. Specifically, we explored how providing random back-channelling (i.e., verbal continuers including "hm", "uhum", "aha", "yeah") can result in longer interactions and more sustained user engagement. The findings of the study have implications for usability and future design of smart-speakers. We also explored how the enhanced interactions in smart-speakers through back-channeling can be used for self-centered therapy leading to beter emotional and social support.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCSCW 2019 Companion - Conference Companion Publication of the 2019 Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)9781450366922
StatePublished - Nov 9 2019
Externally publishedYes
Event22nd ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, CSCW 2019 - Austin, United States
Duration: Nov 9 2019Nov 13 2019

Publication series

NameProceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW


Conference22nd ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, CSCW 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited States

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Human-Computer Interaction


  • Active listening
  • Back-channeling
  • Conversational agents
  • Smart-speakers
  • Wellbeing

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