press release
Published: 19 October 2023

Popular AI friendship apps may have negative effects on wellbeing and cause addictive behaviour, finds study

Popular AI friendship apps and platforms could be causing addiction in people who are in vulnerable situations, according to University of Surrey researchers. 

Researchers set out to investigate the extent to which AI friendship apps, such as Replika and Mitsuku, are enhancing users’ wellbeing. They discovered that while providing wellbeing through a sense of relationship, some AI friendship apps are creating addictive usage in lonely users.  

They also found that users’ feelings of loneliness and fear of judgment, together with perceived AI sentience and wellbeing, increased addiction to the app. 

Dr Valentina Pitardi, author of the study and Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Surrey, said: 

“Our research found that despite the intended purpose of many wellbeing apps, the negative effects that they have on wellbeing appear to be much greater.    

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, people across the world experienced a never-before felt level of loneliness. This level of isolation and loneliness continued to rise and is still felt to this day as people continue to experience social exclusion. As a result, many people turn to internet-related coping strategies, such as wellbeing apps developed to help users with their mental and physical challenges – including friendship and therapy-related wellbeing apps. 

“We found that the instant gratification and the perceived wellbeing gained from using these apps increased addiction and app over-use. As a result, we believe that friendship apps may be doing more harm than good. Understanding how their use may impact users' wellbeing is critical for an ethical approach to the deployment of the technology.” 

AI friendship apps are defined as AI dialogue systems that respond to users in a social and empathetic way to generate conversation. They use virtual social chatbots designed to help users overcome their various social needs and can provide them with friendship, counselling and even companionship.  

AI friendship apps are designed to be ultimate smart companions. Users can choose the gender and appearance of their AI friends and can establish relationship-type, such as friend, mentor, or romantic partner. 

Read the full study in Psychology & Marketing, Wiley. 


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