Children are vulnerable to suggestions of robots
to a study conducted at the University of Plymouth, adults and children respond
to an identical task when in the presence of both their peers and humanoid
robots, in a radically different way. While the adults allow their opinions to
be influenced by peers resisting the persuasion of the robots, children (aged
between seven and nine) were more likely to give the same responses as the
robots, even as they were obviously incorrect.
The study used the Asch paradigm (series of experiments on conformity run by Solomon Asch in the 1950s), which asks people to look at a screen showing four lines and say which two match in length. When alone, people almost never make a mistake but when doing the experiment with others, they tend to follow what others are saying. Solving the problem alone, children scored 87% on an average in the test. But when the robots join in, their score drops to 75%. And of the wrong answers, 74% matched those of the robot!
The study provides an interesting insight into how robots could be used positively within society. However, they also raise some concerns over the potential for robots to wield negative influence on vulnerable young children.
"What our results show is that adults do not conform to what the robots are saying. But when we did the experiment with children, they did. It shows children can perhaps have more of an affinity with robots than adults, which does pose the question: what if robots were to suggest, for example, what products to buy or what to think?",suggests Professor Belpaeme, coauthor of the study.