Public Release: 

Humans less likely to return to an automated advisor once given bad advice

Participants gave humans who gave bad advice a second chance

International Communication Association

Washington, DC (May 25, 2016) - The ubiquitous Chat Bot popping up on websites asking if you need help has become standard on many sites. We dismiss, we engage, but do we trust the algorithm that is aiding our experience? Giving us answers and advice? A recent study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that participants were less likely to return to an automated advisor if given bad advice over a human advisor under the same circumstances.

Andrew Prahl and Lyn M. Van Swol (University of Wisconsin) will present their findings in June at the 66th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association in Fukuoka, Japan. The researchers' experiment asked participants to forecast scheduling for hospital operating rooms, a task they were unfamiliar with. In order to complete this task, participants were given help from either an "advanced computer system" or "a person experienced in operating room management." During the 7th trial of the 14 scheduling trials, participants were given bad advice from either the computer advisor or human advisor.

The researchers found that after participants received bad advice, they rapidly abandoned the computer advisor and did not use the advice on subsequent trials. This "punishment" for giving bad advice was not nearly as strong for the human advisor. It is almost as if people "forgave" the human advisor for making a mistake but did not extend the same feelings of forgiveness to the computer.

Past research has looked at trust of automation through simple tasks like warning systems. Prahl and Van Swol wanted to look at more sophisticated automation that actually makes predictions about future outcomes and compare that to human advice. Unlike previous research, the researchers did not find that humans or algorithmic advisors were generally trusted more, the only significant differences arose after the advisor provided bad advice.

"This has very important implications because time and time again we are seeing humans being replaced by computers in the workplace," said Prahl. "This research suggests that any potential efficiency gains by moving towards automation might be offset because all the automation has to do is err once, and people will rapidly lose trust and stop using it - this is one of the few studies out there that really show the potential downsides of automation in the workplace."


"The Computer Said I Should: How Does Receiving Advice From a Computer Differ From Receiving Advice From a Human," by Andrew Prahl and Lyn M. Van Swol; to be presented at the 66th Annual International Communication Association Conference, Fukuoka, Japan, 9-13 June 2016.

Contact: To schedule an interview with the author or a copy of the research, please contact John Paul Gutierrez,

About ICA

The International Communication Association is an academic association for scholars interested in the study, teaching, and application of all aspects of human and mediated communication. With more than 4,300 members in 80 countries, ICA includes 31 Divisions and Interest Groups and publishes the Communication Yearbook and five major, peer-reviewed journals: Journal of Communication, Communication Theory, Human Communication Research, Communication, Culture & Critique, and the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. For more information, visit

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