Would you be willing to cheat on your partner with an artificial intelligence? This is how it enters marital therapy

promises to be one of the biggest revolutions to come in our lives when its use is democratized, just as the internet was at the turn of the millennium.

Our lives will change dramatically, not only in the professional sphere, but also in the private or more emotional sphere. This is a trend that we are starting to see in some like Her (Spike Jonze, 2013), where there is a dilemma between a real and physical and a virtual and abstract love, since finding the soulmate on this other of reality would not cost so much, since it is made up of our greatest desires and idealizations of what this ideal person could potentially be.

So this poses many dilemmas in the relationship field, but also many opportunities. This is the point of view of couple therapists such as Gurit E. Birnbaum, who has published an interesting text in the journal Psychology Today explaining several of the studies he has conducted to date that pose serious challenges to couples on issues such as fidelity. After all, imagine being able to pretend to be with the person of your dreams, who is far from the person you are actually with, thanks to something as simple as free will. In this sense, the psychologist has experimented with this type of technology with couples so that they can see for themselves the level of resistance they have to the many temptations that may arise.

The psychologist hypothesized that “flirting with artificial intelligence did not lead to the perception of alternative real-world partners as less attractive.”

The psychologist hypothesized that couples' resistance to could be driven by virtual reality. In other words, flirting with an AI that looks like your dream person may prevent the subject from being more hesitant to do so if the same thing happens in real life. “We examined whether exposure to a low threat (flirting with a virtual human) would make people less tempted in the real world,” the psychologist explains. “This exposure was likely to remind them of their long-term commitments, while preparing them to defend their relationship. We predicted that virtual dating would cause people to desire their current partner more and devalue the appeal of alternative partners.”

Three studies, three focuses

When programming this virtual flirtation, scientists examined three modes of seduction: conversational content (with overtly seductive phrases or questions, typical of the dating world), eye contact, and nonverbal (which also betrays many intentions). In a first study, participants were interviewed by a physically attractive interviewer right after their first virtual encounter, using a fixed interview script, asking their opinion on personal or seduction-related topics.

The individual, aware that he is flirting with an AI, knows in advance that he cannot generate any emotional attachment.

The investigator is then asked to adopt a “flirtatious” attitude toward the participant, looking him or her in the and physically approaching the participant. The subjects were then asked to rate how attracted they were to him. In the end, the scientists concluded that after a flirtatious encounter with an AI, the participants generally perceived their real-life counterpart (the interviewer) as less attractive.

In the second study, participants were placed in a more real-world situation. After the virtual encounter, the researchers had to interact with an unknown person they found attractive and who was seeking help. “We focused on this situation because offering help is a less risky way to express interest in other partners than overt flirting,” explains Birnbaum. What was the problem or conflict they needed to pay attention to? A five-tiered pyramid made of plastic cups.

All participants were assigned the same attractive person, who was also part of the research team. On the way to the third floor, the tempter would knock the pyramid down, claiming that he had done so unintentionally. “They would then say to them, ‘Since I am clumsy, could you help me rebuild it?” Meanwhile, the observers would time how long it took to rebuild the building, assuming that more time meant more interest from the participant.

In the end, the researchers found that after flirting with a virtual entity, participants generally spent less time helping a stranger who needed their help and whom they found attractive or appealing. Therefore, “flirting with an artificial intelligence not only leads to perceiving other real-world partners as less attractive,” as they demonstrated in the first study, but also “minimizes the time spent interacting with them.” Does this mean that after being exposed to virtual seduction, we find real or physical seduction insufficient or less attractive?

The results

To find out, the researchers conducted a third experiment with the two romantic partners, taking them to different virtual immersion rooms. One of them interacted with a virtual waiter who behaved in a seductive or neutral manner, as in the other two previous studies. Meanwhile, the other person watched a video that did not induce sexual attraction. Next, the two people were brought face to face and asked to discuss their current level of sexual satisfaction. After this conversation, the participants rated their desire for each other and their desire to have extramarital sex or not. “We found that after the seductive virtual encounter, participants desired their current partner more and felt less sexual desire for other people,” Birnbaum concluded in her study published in the journal Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology.

The psychologist believes that artificial intelligence can be used as an antidote to possible temptations or cases of infidelity in couples. It is possible that the individual, aware that he is flirting with a person who is not real, knows in advance that he cannot generate any type of emotional bond with this person, even if the virtual vision seems hyper-realistic. In reality, seen from this perspective, it does not seem very different from the typical erotic dream that a married person or a person in a relationship may have with a person around them by pure chance. If, in such a dream, the person feels guilty and eventually rejects the temptation, it means that he or she is ready to resist infidelity. If this is not the case, there is no need to scourge oneself or feel guilty; after all, it is a deception of the unconscious. There is no need to think about it any further, because real life is one thing and the dreamed or virtual life is another.

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