When Etiquette Really Matters: Relational Agents and Behavior Change

Timothy Bickmore

Etiquette is about adhering to prescribed norms in social interactions, or about negotiating and making explicit interactional norms when they do not already exist. While these play a role in most realms of human interaction, the establishment of such norms has been demonstrated to be especially crucial in domains in which a person is attempting to undergo a change in behavior or cognitive or affective state. In the field of psychotherapy, the construct of working alliance has been demonstrated to have a significant correlation with outcomes across a broad range of therapies, and has been hypothesized to be the single common factor underlying the therapeutic benefit of therapies ranging from behavioral and cognitive therapies to psychodynamic therapy [6]. The working alliance is one dimension of the relationship between the therapist and patient, based on trust and belief in each other as team-members in achieving a desired outcome [4]. The working alliance has three subcomponents: a goal component (the therapist and client agree on the goals of the therapy); a task component (the therapist and client agree on the therapeutic tasks to be performed); and a bond component (reflecting the trusting, empathetic relationship between the client and therapist). The alliance is thus a change-inducing relationship in which the interactional norms (goals and tasks) have been made explicit and are understood and agreed to by both the therapist and the patient.

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