A study conducted at the University of Plymouth explored how youngsters and adults performed on a famous psychologist test which measures how individuals are influenced by their peers. It showed that grown-ups were able to resist have their opinions influenced by robots – whilst children were terrifyingly vulnerable.
Tony Belpaeme, a robotics professor from the University of Plymouth and Ghent University who worked on the research, said: ‘People often follow the opinions of others and we’ve known for a long time that it is hard to resist taking over views and opinions of people around us. We know this as conformity. ‘But as robots will soon be found in the home and the workplace, we were wondering if people would conform to robots.
The results show is that adults do not conform to what the robots are saying. But 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?’ The study used the Asch paradigm, a classic experiment first developed in the 1950s. It asks people to look at a screen showing four lines and say which two have the same length. When people are alone, it’s very rare for them to make a mistake. But when they take part in the experiment as part of a group, participants often follow what their peers are saying and give the wrong answer.