Project: AI-based voice assistance for older adults with and without intellectual disability: ecologically valid methods applying automated emotion and speech analysis

The project „ AI-based voice assistance for older adults with and without intellectual disabilitiy: ecologically valid methods applying automated speech recognition and emotion analysis” explores how older adults use an AI-based voice assistant, how the use is experienced emotionally, and which potentials and challenges this creates for the perceived quality of life and social participation. We concentrate on two user groups that previously have not found much attention in the area, although an AI-based voice assistance may be particularly useful: older adults with and without intellectual disability.

Our project stands out for three novel features:

  • First, the use of AI-based voice assistants is investigated “ecologically valid” in the homes of older adults with and without intellectual disability. Despite a growing body of research focusing on the role of end-users in the context of aging and technology, there are only few empirical studies so far using this kind of approach.
  • Second, the application of automated emotion analysis represents the application of cutting-edge technology, applied to our knowledge for the first time in the voice assistance context.
  • Third, especially older people with intellectual disability have rarely been studied so far in the realm of aging, technology and digital media, although AI-based systems might come with so far untested potential.

Four-week field studies constitute the methodological key element of this project. In these field studies, older adults with and without intellectual disability have the opportunity to use an AI-based voice assistant in their daily life. Besides the automatically recorded data on users’ verbal and facial expressions while interacting with the system, participants are asked to document their experiences in a voice-based diary-app.

Data are subsequently analyzed using a mix of quantitative and qualitative strategies in order to generate a multi-level and multi-faceted picture of the usage of the voice assistant and its emotional-communicative implications.

In preparation for the field study, we will conduct a series of semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions. This user-centered research aims to explore in detail the needs, expectations, concerns and possible use cases of the special user groups.

We hope to contribute with our findings to identifying the added value of AI-based voice assistants for various groups of older adults in differentiated ways, e.g., focusing on perceived quality of life and social participation, thereby deducing recommendations for the use of AI-based technology in heterogeneous groups of older adults.


The project is funded by the Baden-Württemberg Stiftung as part of the research program "Responsible Artificial Intelligence" for a three-year period.


NAR-Project "Narration and Alzheimer Dementia"

Nemes GasparGaspar Nemes (Project Leader)
In research on social cognition, the relationship between mentalization and narrative competence has been long known.Today, in many social cognitive neuroscientific and narrative cultural, developmental psychology theories, narratives are considered a storage of knowledge-, communication- and social behaviour patterns as well as society simulators and training rooms of social cognitive practices. Stories combine and link people and their brains as relationship organs in a mutual, narrative coded area of meaning, and also fulfil basal functions of a neuronal organisation and integration of motor, affective, cognitive and social modular networks and systems in or between brains. In order to be able to construct and understand narratives, to perceive the mental-cognitive, emotional, spatial and chronological levels of narrated worlds, to go on a mental journey through time and empathize with the narrative perspective and logic of a story, the healthy brain must have highly developed and perfectly functioning narrative- and mentalization competences. Only then can a healthy human being develop a identification/ self-image compatible with his bio- psycho-social-cultural environment and thereby find his way in his narrative coded world. So the healthy brain is also a perfectly functioning narrative brain.

In many diseases of the brain (in our study we focus on Autism and Alzheimer’s Disease), the deficits of social cognition are basically traced back to a limited mentalization ability. Due to an impaired social-cognitive- and narrative competence, the unreliably functioning brain is therefore also a dysnarrative brain. Because of this intellectual context, I will explain the relation between “Narration and Alzheimer’s Disease” in my research project within the NAR. First of all, I am introducing an attempt of a neuro-anatomical, psychological explanation of the impaired approach on the dysnarrative brain to narrative, discourse pragmatic and meta-discourse practices in various developmental psychological phases of a complete lifespan. My study also obtains principle criticism on the approach of the popular “Theories of Mind” in the current research on social cognition. In connection to the mentalization- and narration competence deficits, a particular emphasis is on the analysis of the narrative mask, the disorder of narrative identity, security and reminiscence in older age in general, and in Alzheimer’s disease in particular. Finally, I am trying to develop the very interesting research potential that the study on impairment of mentalization- and narrative competence in people with Alzheimer’s disease implicates, for many questions of clinical neurolinguistics an narrative gerontopsychiatry as well as non-medication therapy- and rehabilitation of Alzheimer’s Disease research. The long-term goal of the project is elaboration of a theoretical basis for building bridges from geronto- narratology to Alzheimer’s Disease narratology as well as the development of a narrative therapy for people with Alzheimer’s disease.




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