How does empathy influence creative problem solving? We introduce a computational empathy intervention based on context-specific affective mimicry and perspective taking by a virtual agent appearing in the form of a well-dressed polar bear. In an online experiment with 1,006 participants randomly assigned to an emotion elicitation intervention (with a control elicitation condition and anger elicitation condition) and a computational empathy intervention (with a control virtual agent and an empathic virtual agent), we examine how anger and empathy influence participants’ performance in solving a word game based on Wordle. We find participants who are assigned to the anger elicitation condition perform significantly worse on multiple performance metrics than participants assigned to the control condition. However, we find the empathic virtual agent counteracts the drop in performance induced by the anger condition such that participants assigned to both the empathic virtual agent and the anger condition perform no differently than participants in the control elicitation condition and significantly better than participants assigned to the control virtual agent and the anger elicitation condition. While empathy reduces the negative effects of anger, we do not find evidence that the empathic virtual agent influences performance of participants who are assigned to the control elicitation condition. By introducing a framework for computational empathy interventions and conducting a two-by-two factorial design randomized experiment, we provide rigorous, empirical evidence that computational empathy can counteract the negative effects of anger on creative problem solving.
Published by IEEE in 2022 10th International Conference on Affective Computing and Intelligent Interaction (ACII)