In the age of automation, many would argue that a robot can be your child’s best friend, rather than a dog. Here’s a shocker if you happen to believe this. Robots have the power to significantly influence children’s opinions, according to a new study.
The study, conducted at the University of Plymouth, examined how adults and children respond to an identical task in the presence of both their peers and humanoid robots.
The results showed that peers often influence opinions of adults as demonstrated in previous studies. They could resist being persuaded by robots.
However, children aged between seven and nine were more likely to give the same responses as the robots, even if they were obviously incorrect.
The researchers used the Asch paradigm, which was first developed in the 1950s. It asks people to look at a screen showing four lines, and say which two match in length.
People gave the right answer almost every time when alone. But when they were accompanied by peers, they tended to follow what others were saying.
Children scored 87 percent on the test when they were alone in the room. However, when the robots joined in, their score dropped to 75 percent. And of the wrong answers, 74 percent matched those of the robot.
There are concerns
The results definitely provide an interesting insight into how robots could leave a positive impact in the society. But there are some concerns as well. Scientists cautioned about the potential for robots to have a 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,” Tony Belpaeme from the University of Plymouth and Ghent University, said.
“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?” Belpaeme added.
Researchers said that we are approaching a future in which autonomous social robots will aid child therapists. In such cases, the robots’ information will significantly affect the individuals they interact with.
“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,” researchers said in the study.