Learning Affects Trust: Design Recommendations and Concepts for Teaching Children—and Nearly Anyone—about Conversational Agents


  • Jessica Van Brummelen MIT
  • Mingyan Claire Tian Wellesley College
  • Maura Kelleher MIT
  • Nghi Hoang Nguyen MIT




Conversational Agents, Conversational AI, K-12 Education, Trust, Perceptions, Partner Models, Agent Personification, Agent Anthropomorphism, Children, Parents, WEIRD/non-WEIRD


Conversational agents are rapidly becoming commonplace. However, since these systems are typically blackboxed, users—including vulnerable populations, like children—often do not understand them deeply. For example, they might assume agents are overly intelligent, leading to frustration and distrust. Users may also overtrust agents, and thus overshare personal information or rely heavily on agents' advice. Despite this, little research investigates users' perceptions of conversational agents in-depth, and even less investigates how education might change these perceptions to be more healthy. We present workshops with associated educational conversational AI concepts to encourage healthier understanding of agents. Through studies with the curriculum with children and parents from various countries, we found participants' perceptions of agents—specifically their partner models and trust—changed. When participants discussed changes in trust of agents, we found they most often mentioned learning something. For example, they frequently mentioned learning where agents obtained information, what agents do with this information and how agents are programmed. Based on the results, we developed recommendations for teaching conversational agent concepts, including emphasizing the concepts students found most challenging, like training, turn-taking and terminology; supplementing agent development activities with related learning activities; fostering appropriate levels of trust towards agents; and fostering accurate partner models of agents. Through such pedagogy, students can learn to better understand conversational AI and what it means to have it in the world.




How to Cite

Van Brummelen, J., Tian, M. C., Kelleher, M., & Nguyen, N. H. (2023). Learning Affects Trust: Design Recommendations and Concepts for Teaching Children—and Nearly Anyone—about Conversational Agents. Proceedings of the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, 37(13), 15860-15868. https://doi.org/10.1609/aaai.v37i13.26883