Children may be especially vulnerable to peer pressure from robots | Robotics

Adults appear able to resist the machines’ influence

BE LIKE ME  Elementary school children often endorsed unanimous but inaccurate judgments made by small groups of social , such as this one.


A.-L. Vollmer et al. conform, adults resist: A robot group induced on normative social conformity. Science Robotics. Published online August 15, 2018. doi:10.1126/scirobotics.aat7111.

Peer pressure can be tough for kids to resist, even if it comes from robots.

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School-aged children tend to echo the incorrect but unanimous responses of a group of robots to a simple visual task, a new study finds. In contrast, adults who often go along with the errant judgments of human peers resist such social pressure applied by robots, researchers report August 15 in Science Robotics.

“Rather than seeing a robot as a machine, children may see it as a social character,” says psychologist Anna-Lisa Vollmer of Bielefeld University, Germany. “This might explain why they succumb to peer pressure [applied] by robots.”

Little is known about how either adults or children respond to the behavior of lifelike robots designed to interact with people, for example, as museum tour guides, child-care assistants and teaching aids.

In a preliminary examination of the influence of social robots, Vollmer’s group adapted a 1950s social psychology experiment in which most adults agreed with groups of peers who had been coached to say that lines of different lengths were in fact the same length (SN Online: 5/15/18).

Vollmer’s team observed comparable social conformity in a study of 60 British adults, ages 18 to 69, who judged line lengths after hearing the opinions of three peers who were working with the researchers. Participants usually endorsed peers’ unanimous, inaccurate judgments. Conformity vanished, however, when volunteers performed the task while sitting with three robots that, on some trials, agreed on an incorrect answer.

Each robot was programmed to make periodic movements, such as blinking its eyes and briefly gazing at others. Robots spoke with distinctive, individualized voice pitches when making line judgments.

robotics" alt="child with three robots and an adult" class="caption" style="width: 730px;height: 390px;float: right" title="LINE UP In new experiments on social conformity, 7- to 9-year-olds sitting across a table from an experimenter identified lines of matching length on a screen after hearing the opinions of three moving, talking robots. ~~ Tony Belpaeme/Ghent University” />

Further Reading

B. Bower. Kids are selective imitators, not extreme copycats. Science News Online, May 15, 2018.

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