Fully Embodied Conversational Avatars: Making Communicative Behaviors Autonomous

J. Cassell*, H. Vilhjálmsson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)


Although avatars may resemble communicative interface agents, they have for the most part not profited from recent research into autonomous embodied conversational systems. In particular, even though avatars function within conversational environments (for example, chat or games), and even though they often resemble humans (with a head, hands, and a body) they are incapable of representing the kinds of knowledge that humans have about how to use the body during communication. Humans, however, do make extensive use of the visual channel for interaction management where many subtle and even involuntary cues are read from stance, gaze, and gesture. We argue that the modeling and animation of such fundamental behavior is crucial for the credibility and effectiveness of the virtual interaction in chat. By treating the avatar as a communicative agent, we propose a method to automate the animation of important communicative behavior, deriving from work in conversation and discourse theory. BodyChat is a system that allows users to communicate via text while their avatars automatically animate attention, salutations, turn taking, back-channel feedback, and facial expression. An evaluation shows that users found an avatar with autonomous conversational behaviors to be more natural than avatars whose behaviors they controlled, and to increase the perceived expressiveness of the conversation. Interestingly, users also felt that avatars with autonomous communicative behaviors provided a greater sense of user control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-64
Number of pages20
JournalAutonomous Agents and Multi-Agent Systems
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1999

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thanks to the members of the Gesture and Narrative Language group and the Media Lab community for valuable discussions. This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (STIMULATE award 9618939) and by the Media Lab Digital Life and Things That Think consortia.

Other keywords

  • Avatars
  • Communicative behaviors
  • Embodied conversational agents
  • Lifelike


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