Employees interacting with AI are turning into lonely alcoholics

Employees could develop a codependent relationship with alcohol and suffer insomnia, says a new study.
Sejal Sharma
Representational image
Representational image


If there’s one thing we all learned from the 2013 sci-fi romantic film ‘Her,’ it is that humans function at their best when they have deep interpersonal relationships with other humans, and not with an artificial intelligence-powered system.

There’s no denying that AI is making a whirlwind in 2023. Hundreds of startups are thinking about how they can cash in on the new generative AI space. Major tech firms are coupling AI and humans to work together, while some have even announced that they would replace their human workforce with AI.

This integration of humans and machines may be a cause of worry, especially among people with attachment anxiety, according to a new study. The researchers of the study found that the more humans interact with their AI colleagues, the more likely it is for them to feel the need for social interaction and affiliation. The increase in intermingling between AI and us can also lead to feelings of loneliness.

More AI interaction = alcohol consumption & insomnia

The researchers noticed certain adaptive and maladaptive behaviors in the subjects they studied. As an outcome of loneliness after work, the employee could develop a codependent relationship with alcohol or suffer insomnia, says the study.

“Across millennia, people evolved internal systems to gauge the quality of relationships with others. These systems have remained effective in a workplace that, just as in primitive tribal communities, prioritized social interactions with coworkers. Yet, the advent of digital, asocial AI systems and their incorporation into employee work, threatens to upend the operation of these systems,” wrote the researchers in their paper.

The findings are based on four study groups from Malaysia, Taiwan, the U.S., and Indonesia. The team applied different research methodologies and recruited participants from different industries.

Study is based on four experiments

In the first study, the team collected data from engineers in a Taiwan-based biomedical company. The engineers’ primary responsibility was to interact with AI to test, design and implement new equipment and procedures. After four weeks, the engineers reported heightened experiences of loneliness, insomnia, and an increase in alcohol consumption.

In the Indonesia study group, 126 participants were divided into two groups. The first group was told to collaborate with AI as much as possible for three days, and the second group was told to abstain from AI interaction. The findings were similar to that of the first study.

The study also pointed out that interactions with AI led to increased levels of helping other colleagues. However, the researchers noted: “While this is a desirable outcome from a managerial standpoint, this behavior is still a reaction to what employees viewed as a socially deficient work situation.”

“As such, we do not suggest that the way to encourage greater levels of helping among employees is to otherwise deprive them of social interactions. To this point, it is important to note that the same experience that led to greater levels of helping also led to greater levels of alcohol consumption and insomnia after work,” they added.

The study was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Study abstract:

The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution has arrived, as AI systems are increasingly being integrated across organizational functions into the work lives of employees. This coupling of employees and machines fundamentally alters the work-related interactions to which employees are accustomed, as employees find themselves increasingly interacting with, and relying on, AI systems instead of human coworkers. This increased coupling of employees and AI portends a shift toward more of an “asocial system,” wherein people may feel socially disconnected at work. Drawing upon the social affiliation model, we develop a model delineating both adaptive and maladaptive consequences of this situation. Specifically, we theorize that the more employees interact with AI in the pursuit of work goals, the more they experience a need for social affiliation (adaptive)—which may contribute to more helping behavior toward coworkers at work—as well as a feeling of loneliness (maladaptive), which then further impair employee well-being after work (i.e., more insomnia and alcohol consumption). In addition, we submit that these effects should be especially pronounced among employees with higher levels of attachment anxiety. Results across four studies (N = 794) with mixed methodologies (i.e., survey study, field experiment, and simulation study; Studies 1–4) with employees from four different regions (i.e., Taiwan, Indonesia, United States, and Malaysia) generally support our hypotheses.

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