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Emotional Features of Interactions With Empathic Agents
The current study is part of the EMPATHIC project, whose aim is to develop an Empathic Virtual Coach (VC) capable of promoting healthy and independent aging. To this end, the VC needs to be capable of perceiving the emotional states of users and adjusting its behaviour during the interactions according to what the users are experiencing in terms of emotions and comfort. Thus, the present work focuses on some sessions where elderly users of three different countries interact with a simulated system. Audio and video information extracted from these sessions were examined by external observers to assess participants' emotional experience with the EMPATHIC-VC in terms of categorical and dimensional assessment of emotions. Analyses were conducted on the emotional labels assigned by the external observers while participants were engaged in two different scenarios: a generic one, where the interaction was carried out with no intention to discuss a specific topic, and a nutrition one, aimed to accomplish a conversation on users' nutritional habits. Results of analyses performed on both audio and video data revealed that the EMPATHIC coach did not elicit negative feelings in the users. Indeed, users from all countries have shown relaxed and positive behavior when interacting with the simulated VC during both scenarios. Overall, the EMPATHIC-VC was capable to offer an enjoyable experience without eliciting negative feelings in the users. This supports the hypothesis that an Empathic Virtual Coach capable of considering users' expectations and emotional states could support elderly people in daily life activities and help them to remain independent.