Can chatbots help to motivate smoking cessation? A study on the effectiveness of motivational interviewing on engagement and therapeutic alliance

Linwei He, Erkan Basar, Reinout W. Wiers, Marjolijn L. Antheunis, Emiel Krahmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Cigarette smoking poses a major threat to public health. While cessation support provided by healthcare professionals is effective, its use remains low. Chatbots have the potential to serve as a useful addition. The objective of this study is to explore the possibility of using a motivational interviewing style chatbot to enhance engagement, therapeutic alliance, and perceived empathy in the context of smoking cessation. Methods: A preregistered web-based experiment was conducted in which smokers (n = 153) were randomly assigned to either the motivational interviewing (MI)-style chatbot condition (n = 78) or the neutral chatbot condition (n = 75) and interacted with the chatbot in two sessions. In the assessment session, typical intake questions in smoking cessation interventions were administered by the chatbot, such as smoking history, nicotine dependence level, and intention to quit. In the feedback session, the chatbot provided personalized normative feedback and discussed with participants potential reasons to quit. Engagement with the chatbot, therapeutic alliance, and perceived empathy were the primary outcomes and were assessed after both sessions. Secondary outcomes were motivation to quit and perceived communication competence and were assessed after the two sessions. Results: No significant effects of the experimental manipulation (MI-style or neutral chatbot) were found on engagement, therapeutic alliance, or perceived empathy. A significant increase in therapeutic alliance over two sessions emerged in both conditions, with participants reporting significantly increased motivation to quit. The chatbot was perceived as highly competent, and communication competence was positively associated with engagement, therapeutic alliance, and perceived empathy. Conclusion: The results of this preregistered study suggest that talking with a chatbot about smoking cessation can help to motivate smokers to quit and that the effect of conversation has the potential to build up over time. We did not find support for an extra motivating effect of the MI-style chatbot, for which we discuss possible reasons. These findings highlight the promise of using chatbots to motivate smoking cessation. Implications for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number726
Number of pages14
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2022


  • Chatbot
  • Empathy
  • Engagement
  • Motivation to Quit
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Therapeutic Alliance


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