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Surprising Science

How “Expressive” Avatar Technology Helps Reduce Bullying

As a replacement for actual video, technology using avatars with gesture and facial recognition ability make conflict resolution easier for kids, according to a new study.

What’s the Latest Development?

A study of UK students aged 12-13 reported that those who used technology to help resolve conflicts felt more positive towards others when they were represented by avatars that incorporated state-of-the-art gesture and facial recognition software. They were also able to trust others more, and present better ideas for reducing bullying at school. The six-month study was recently published in Computers in Human Behaviour and was led by researchers at the University of Kent. Student subjects came from three schools in Canterbury and Sittingbourne.

What’s the Big Idea?

Until recently, communication via avatar was considered less effective than communication via video. With new technologies that allow avatars to “show” emotion, students are able to interact better, plus they have the added level of anonymity that avatars provide. Lecturer Jim Ang, who co-led the study, says, “Advances in avatar technology have great potential to transform the way we connect and empathise with each other using computers. And, as our research has shown, it’s an excellent platform to help young people, who are very comfortable with all forms of technology, to resolve conflict in schools.”

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