Assessing empathy and managing emotions through interactions with an affective avatar

Health Informatics J. 2018 Jun;24(2):182-193. doi: 10.1177/1460458216661864. Epub 2016 Sep 30.


Assistive technologies can improve the quality of life of people diagnosed with different forms of social communication disorders. We report on the design and evaluation of an affective avatar aimed at engaging the user in a social interaction with the purpose of assisting in communication therapies. A human-avatar taxonomy is proposed to assist the design of affective avatars aimed at addressing social communication disorder. The avatar was evaluated with 30 subjects to assess how effectively it conveys the desired emotion and elicits empathy from the user. Results provide evidence that users become used to the avatar after a number of interactions, and they perceive the defined behavior as being logical. The users' interactions with the avatar entail affective reactions, including the mimic emotions that users felt, and establish a preliminary ground truth about prototypic empathic interactions with avatars that is being used to train learning algorithms to support social communication disorder evaluation.

Keywords: affective computing; cognitive disabilities; empathy; human–avatar interaction; social communication disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Social Communication Disorder / complications
  • Social Communication Disorder / psychology*
  • User-Computer Interface
  • Virtual Reality*