Children experience social pressure through robots

(16-08-2018) People often adjust their behavior and decisions to adapt to others. Research from Ghent University shows that the opinions and decisions of children are also influenced by robots.

The scientists compared how adults and children scored on an identical task under three different circumstances: when they were alone in the test room, with their peers, or with so-called social (artificially intelligent) robots in the test room.

Where adults often adjust their opinions based on what others say ('conforming'), they usually proved to be resistant to the influence of robots. That is different for children. The children (7 to 9 years) who participated in the study often gave the same answers as the robot, even if those answers were clearly wrong.

When children gave an incorrect answer, 74% of the cases happened under the influence of the robot. Children who took the test alone scored 87% on average. When they did the test together with a robot, that score dropped to 75%.

This research offers a view of the opportunities and concerns about the way in which robots can be used in a positive way in society. Learning to conform can be beneficial in certain areas, but the risk of misuse and the possible impact of misuse can not be ignored.

Prof. dr. Tony Belpaeme (UGent & University of Plymouth): "We have known for a long time that it is difficult not to allow yourself to be influenced by opinions and opinions from people around us, but because robots will soon be found at home and in the workplace, we asked wonder if people would also adapt to robots.
What our results show is that adults do not conform their opinions to what robots say. But children seem to do so. They may have more affinity with robots than adults. The study raises the question: what if robots would suggest buying behavior or what to think? "
In their conclusion from the current study, the researchers add: "A future in which autonomous social robots are used as tools for educational professionals or child therapists is not far away: in these applications the robot is in a position in which the information provided can have a significant influence on the persons with whom they communicate. Discussion is needed about whether there should be protective measures, such as a regulatory framework, that minimize the risk for children during social interaction between child and robot and what form that regulation can take to avoid adversely affecting promising developments. "
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