Using fNIRS to Identify Transparency- and Reliability-Sensitive Markers of Trust Across Multiple Timescales in Collaborative Human-Human-Agent Triads Journal Article uri icon



  • Intelligent agents are rapidly evolving from assistants into teammates as they perform increasingly complex tasks. Successful human-agent teams leverage the computational power and sensory capabilities of automated agents while keeping the human operator's expectation consistent with the agent's ability. This helps prevent over-reliance on and under-utilization of the agent to optimize its effectiveness. Research at the intersection of human-computer interaction, social psychology, and neuroergonomics has identified trust as a governing factor of human-agent interactions that can be modulated to maintain an appropriate expectation. To achieve this calibration, trust can be monitored continuously and unobtrusively using neurophysiological sensors. While prior studies have demonstrated the potential of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), a lightweight neuroimaging technology, in the prediction of social, cognitive, and affective states, few have successfully used it to measure complex social constructs like trust in artificial agents. Even fewer studies have examined the dynamics of hybrid teams of more than 1 human or 1 agent. We address this gap by developing a highly collaborative task that requires knowledge sharing within teams of 2 humans and 1 agent. Using brain data obtained with fNIRS sensors, we aim to identify brain regions sensitive to changes in agent behavior on a long- and short-term scale. We manipulated agent reliability and transparency while measuring trust, mental demand, team processes, and affect. Transparency and reliability levels are found to significantly affect trust in the agent, while transparency explanations do not impact mental demand. Reducing agent communication is shown to disrupt interpersonal trust and team cohesion, suggesting similar dynamics as human-human teams. Contrasts of General Linear Model analyses identify dorsal medial prefrontal cortex activation specific to assessing the agent's transparency explanations and characterize increases in mental demand as signaled by dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex and frontopolar activation. Short scale event-level data is analyzed to show that predicting whether an individual will trust the agent, with data from 15 s before their decision, is feasible with fNIRS data. Discussing our results, we identify targets and directions for future neuroergonomics research as a step toward building an intelligent trust-modulation system to optimize human-agent collaborations in real time.

publication date

  • January 1, 2022

has restriction

  • gold

Date in CU Experts

  • April 12, 2022 8:46 AM

Full Author List

  • Eloy L; Doherty EJ; Spencer CA; Bobko P; Hirshfield L

author count

  • 5

Other Profiles

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2673-6195

Additional Document Info


  • 3