Use of AI: placebo effect increases risk-taking

23 May 2023

Technologies that augment human capabilities change the risk behavior of users.

Human augmentation technologies enhance human abilities. | © IMAGO / Westend61

Human augmentation technologies refer to technological aids that enhance human abilities. They include things like exoskeletons, but also augmented reality headsets. A study at the Chair of Human-Centered Ubiquitous Media at LMU has now shown that users have high expectations of the effects of these technologies. As soon as they believe that AI is enhancing their cognitive abilities, they increase their risk-taking. And they do this independently of whether the AI is actually assisting them.

“The hype around AI applications affects the expectations of users. This can lead to riskier behavior,” says Steeven Villa, doctoral researcher at the Chair of Human-Centered Ubiquitous Media and lead author of the study.

Ruling out placebo effects

In the study, participants were informed they would be assisted by an AI application that augments their cognitive abilities during a virtual card game. In reality, there was no such AI enhancement. Nevertheless, the participants exhibited higher risk-taking as soon as they believed they were benefiting from AI.

The study points to the possible existence of a placebo effect in technical applications of this nature, akin to the well-established placebo effect for medication. “At a time when people are increasingly interacting with intelligent systems, it’s important to understand a possible placebo effect so that we can build systems that offer genuine support,” says Albrecht Schmidt, Professor of Computer Science at LMU.

The researchers recommend assessing the actual benefit of AI applications before releasing them, taking possible placebo effects into account. In addition, they advise tech companies to involve users and their expectations to a greater extent in the development process.


Steeven Villa, Thomas Kosch, Felix Grelka, Albrecht Schmidt, Robin Welsch (2023): The placebo effect of human augmentation: Anticipating cognitive augmentation increases risk-taking behavior. In Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 146.

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