Empower - The Campaign for Northeastern University


PhD Thesis Defense: An Affect-Aware Dialogue System for Counseling

Title: An Affect-Aware Dialogue System for Counseling

Speaker: Lazlo Ring, PhD Candidate, College of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern University

Location: Northeastern University, 440 Huntington Avenue, West Village H, 1st Floor, Room #166, Boston, Massachusetts 02115


Emotions play a key component in human-human communication.  Through our emotional understanding, we communicate empathic cues to others that act as foundations for building relationships and gaining trust in others.  This is especially important in the healthcare domain, where empathy has been linked to improved doctor-patient relationships and stronger therapeutic bonds.  However, as we move towards developing automated healthcare solutions, this rich channel of information is lost.

To address this lack of emotional understanding, researchers have developed techniques to detect and respond to the user’s emotional state in real time.  While research in emotion detection has achieved positive outcomes, the question of how automated systems could effectively use this information for empathic communication remains largely unanswered.  Simple techniques such as mirroring back a user’s emotions have been shown to be unsuccessful at best, with almost none of this work being done in the healthcare domain.

In this thesis, Ring will present a novel approach that allows computers to automatically adapt and respond to a user’s emotional state.  Informed by an analysis of empathic communication in the context of human-human counseling, he developed a theoretical framework that integrates empathy into automated healthcare systems.  Ring will demonstrate how this framework can be applied to develop an automated depression counseling system, and evaluate its efficacy in a series of evaluation studies.  In a longitudinal evaluation study with 36 participants, Ring will compare an affect-aware version of the system against a conventional counseling system.  Results show that participants received improved therapeutic care and had higher levels of system engagement using the affect-aware version.

About the Speaker

Lazlo Ring is a PhD student in the Computer Science program at Northeastern University’s College of Computer and Information Science, advised by Professor Timothy Bickmore.  His research combines those fields to create more engaging systems that respond to real-time user affective states, particularly in health counseling.

He received a joint Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and Psychology from Stony Brook University.  Lazlo has previously worked for a procedural animation company.


Professor Timothy Bickmore, Professor and Associate Dean for Research, College of Computer and Information Science (CCIS) at Northeastern University (Advisor)
Professor Stacy C. Marsella, Professor, Interdisciplinary with the College of Computer and Information Science (CCIS) and the College of Science (COS) at Northeastern University
Professor Stephen Intille, Associate Professor, Bouvé College of Health Sciences and the College of Computer and Information Science (CCIS) at Northeastern University
Dr. Paola Pedrelli, PhD, Director of Dual Diagnoses Studies at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)

Thursday, August 31 at 10:30am



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