Could Robots Peer Pressure Children?

The idea of a robot pressuring a human to do anything may sound absurd. It is what I thought of the idea when I first heard about it. But it appears there is evidence to suggest that children may be susceptible to peer pressure from robots.

Robots and Peer Pressure

A study performed by researchers that was featured in a recent issue of Science Robotics caught my eye. It mentioned that when robots tell kids to do something, they are much more likely to do it. They will perform the action even if the kids believe it may not be the right thing to do.

Children who are still in school are almost unanimous in how they will respond to a robot. When the robot asks them to perform a simple task, the kids will do as they are told. In contrast, adults were much more skeptical.

The study found that when adults were told to go along with what the robot was saying, they used their own judgment to make a different decision. And they were more likely to exhibit that behavior with a robot, compared to fellow humans.

It goes to say that children could be more likely to few robots as social characters, whereas adults only give that distinction to humans.

Study of British Children

The study in question took around 45 British children aged 7 to 9. The kids were placed in front of a robot, one by one. And they were asked whether a statement or action from a robot was the correct one.

Around three fourths of those who were studied agreed, even though most of the statements from the robots were blatantly false.

And it contrasted with how the studied kids behaved when they were the only ones in the room. In those instances, they were answering the simple questions or judging statements correctly.

Future Interaction with Robots

The studies may be purely scientific for the moment. But we are heading to a future where children interacting with robots may become commonplace. It is worth considering how robots could influence children’s decisions and thoughts.

It is unclear why children had that reaction to robots. Was it because they were too young to make the distinction between a robot and a human? Or because the robot exhibited certain behaviors that made it seem like a social character?

Warning Kids About Robots

As a parent, I have had a talk with my kids about peer pressure many times. It is always handled in a similar way, ensuring my kids understand that just because someone says something does not mean it is correct.

We may be headed for a future where parents have to engage in similar conversations with their kids about robots!

 

The study also shows that even though we understand that robots are machines, we still interact with them in a similar way to our interactions with humans. If a robot is more lifelike or shows personality traits that match a human’s, we are more likely to view it positively. And such impressions have a bigger impact on kids, which may be why they succumbed to peer pressure from the robots.