Job Applicants Admit More to a Computer Avatar, Says U.S. Gov't Study

Applying for a U.S. government job? You'll have to answer questions on drug use, criminal activity, and your loyalty to the U.S.A. And thanks to a government study, you might answer to an on-screen avatar, rather than a paper questionnaire.

Researchers at the National Center for Credibility Advancement, the U.S. military's "premiere educational center for polygraph and other credibility assessment technologies and techniques," studied whether potential government job applicants would admit more to a computer-generated avatar versus self-reporting on a paper or computer questionnaire. They created a talking head avatar (which you can see over on Motherboard) and gave it an automated dialogue tree of questions.

The researchers tested the automated avatar on a group of 120 U.S. Army basic trainees sitting for a mock national security clearance interview. As the authors put it, they "examined behavioral and physiological responses of individuals to questions concerning their mental health, drug, alcohol, and criminal histories."

Surprisingly, even though the computer avatar isn't that convincingly human, volunteers divulged much more to the talking head than they did to a questionnaire. And when the avatar asked "is there anything else," over 10 percent of subjects added further information.

It's a little creepy to think that the government wants to replace interviewers with avatars, but there's a very pragmatic reason for it: the researchers point out that automated interviews would be less "time consuming, labor intensive, and costly to the Federal Government." Add to that the strange realization that people are somehow more comfortable revealing secrets to a screen, and you can see why the government might want to use virtual reality to vet its applicants. [Computers in Human Behavior via Motherboard]

Image: Shutterstock / design36