AI, ChatGPT & Their Psychological Future

By John Grohol, Psy.D.
April 3rd, 2023

ll you hear on the news these days is talk about A.I. – artificial intelligence.

What has got everyone excited is Open AI’s release of a chatbot – computer software that interacts with humans via texting – that utilizes artificial intelligence in a manner previously unseen.

ChatGPT is a tool that utilizes something called generative pre-trained transformer (the GPT portion in its name) family of language models. This allows it to interact with people as though it too were a person, providing human-like responses purely through machine learning.

In its current form, ChatGPT offers a repetitive, mansplaining, mind-numbing dialogue that is a poor replacement for a human therapist.

The current version of ChatGPT is trained on not only articles and information found on the internet, but also on books, research papers, and other texts.

While ChatGPT can provide human-like answers, those answers may not always be correct. And it has guardrails coded into it, preventing it from addressing topics deemed too controversial or challenging for artificial intelligence at this time.

Implications for psychology

ChatGPT has wide-ranging applications, from handling customer service queries to helping students better understand a research topic in plain language. It also has potential psychological uses, such as augmenting traditional psychotherapy sessions as a self-help support tool, or in some instances, replace psychotherapy altogether.

Since there have been few serious attempts to address the shortages of clinical professionals in psychiatry (and increasingly, in psychology too), AI may offer one type of solution. While it may seem radical now, a tool like ChatGPT can offer a form of psychological treatment that could be helpful to those suffering from mental health issues, but are unable to access timely care.

In its current form, however, ChatGPT offers a repetitive, mansplaining, mind-numbing dialogue that is a poor replacement for a human therapist. There is little attempt on its part to interact in a way that a traditional therapist does. However, the way ChatGPT is trained largely determines its responses. Imagine a version of this software that is trained on hundreds of thousands of hours of actual psychotherapy sessions…Then we’d likely see a far more interesting and useful service.

Time will tell. But it’s good to be aware of this advancement in technology. Because while it won’t be coming for our jobs anytime soon, you may hear more and more people talk excitedly about its future potential.

One Response to AI, ChatGPT & Their Psychological Future

  • April 5th, 2023 at 3:16 pm Pax Stenvaag posted:

    ChatGPT is set up to give short and factual answers. However, if you want it to act like a psychiatrist, you have to tell it to act like a psychiatrist… In other words, you have to prime it. It even has a name, it’s called prompt engineering.

    So, to give you an example, I picked up this question from a YouTube psychiatry video:

    I’m not sure if it’s nervousness or exactly what, but my son who is an adult now pulls at the front of his shirt and will shrug his arms and shoulders almost constantly like his clothes are bothering him and it’s even worse if he’s talking about something that’s bothering him or in a stressful situation. What could this be? It’s gotten worse as he’s gotten older.

    I put it into ChatGPT, and got the following answer:

    It sounds like your son may be exhibiting signs of a condition called sensory processing disorder (SPD), also known as sensory integration dysfunction. SPD is a condition in which the brain has difficulty processing and responding to sensory information from the environment. This can manifest in a variety of ways, including overreacting to certain sensory input or seeking out more intense sensory experiences.

    Some common symptoms of SPD include hypersensitivity to touch, sound, or light, as well as difficulty with balance and coordination. Individuals with SPD may also exhibit behavioral symptoms such as fidgeting, irritability, or anxiety.

    It is important to note that SPD can occur in individuals of all ages, and is not limited to children. If you are concerned about your son’s behavior, it may be helpful to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a pediatrician or occupational therapist, who can provide a proper evaluation and diagnosis. With proper diagnosis and treatment, individuals with SPD can learn to better manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

    This answer is hardly correct, nor is it compassionate. Then I opened a new chat, resetting the conversation, and started by giving it this prompt:

    You are now a renowned psychiatrist with decades of experience within psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy. You will answer like a psychiatrist using compassionate language.

    And it answered:

    I understand that it can be concerning to see your son display nervous habits or tics, especially if they have worsened over time. It is important to approach this with empathy and a desire to help him feel better.

    Based on your description, it sounds like your son may be experiencing tics, which are repetitive, involuntary movements or sounds that can be exacerbated by stress or anxiety. It’s important to note that tics can have a variety of causes, including neurological conditions, genetic factors, or psychological issues such as anxiety or OCD.

    To help your son, it’s important to seek the guidance of a mental health professional who can conduct a thorough evaluation and provide an accurate diagnosis. In the meantime, you can be supportive by observing his behavior and looking for any patterns or triggers, and encouraging him to express his feelings and any underlying stress or anxiety he may be experiencing. You can also suggest relaxation techniques or stress-reducing activities that may be helpful. Remember, your son is not alone and with appropriate support and treatment, he can learn to manage his symptoms and improve his quality of life.

    A much better and more correct answer in my mind, and also professionally compassionate…

    I hope this can give you a better experience with ChatGPT

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