Children trust robots even when they’re wrong, study reveals

If you’ve ever struggled to get your children to listen to you, new research from the University of Plymouth may pose a possible solution – robots.

In the newly-released study Children conform, adults resist, researchers analysed the way children and adults react to robot peers assisting them in tasks. While the presence of robots had a negligible effect on adults, children between ages seven and nine were noticeably affected by the robot’s input with tasks.

Researchers tested participants using the Asch conformity paradigm, in which a participant is shown a line on a screen with three other lines nearby, one of which is the same length as the original line. The participant is then asked to match one line with the original. Alone, answers are almost all correct, but in situations where other participants are providing incorrect answers, errors occur just over a third of the time.

In this experiment, those other participants were all robots. When tested alone, children were correct 87% of the time however, with robot peers, this dropped to 75% as many agreed with the robot’s wrong answers. Adults weren’t affected by the robots’ answers, which researchers believes shows how they’re influenced by other humans more than robots.

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From the results it’s clear that children seem to trust technology, even if it’s wrong in its decision making. Obviously, that has rather negative implications, but the researchers argue otherwise.

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In the study’s conclusion, the possibility of using robot assistants for education and therapy purposes is mooted. It’s believed that, in positions where a trustworthy figure is required, robots may be beneficial for the child.

The research team is also working on other robot-focused trials, such as the ALIZ-E program where robots aid diabetic children in various tasks relating to their illness. The team is also working on the L2TOR program, where young children learn a second language through robotic assistance. Both of these projects involved robots working closely with children, in caring roles traditionally taken by adults.

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The Children conform, adults resist results shine a light on the different ways people interact with robots. Although personal robot assistants are still a long way off from becoming household staples, it’s never too early to consider their effects – as the researchers state “A discussion is required about whether protective measures, such as a regulatory framework, should be in place that minimise the risk to children during social child-robot interaction [sic]”

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