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Children are far more susceptible than adults to being influenced by robots, according to a study.
Researchers at the University of Plymouth used a technique developed in the 1950s to determine how much influence robots can have on people’s opinions.
The Asch paradigm was originally used to describe how people will usually follow the opinions of others, even if they are clearly wrong.
“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,” said robotics professor Tony Belpaeme, who led the study alongside Plymouth researcher Anna Vollmer.
“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.
"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.”
The study, published in the journal Science Robotics, showed that children scored higher on a test when alone in a room compared to a room with robots.
Professor Belpaeme said the study’s results show children have more of an affinity with robots than adults, suggesting they may be more susceptible to robot-based advertising.
This phenomenon could be used positively in society, for example social robots could be used to help diabetic children accept the nature of their condition.
Similar robots could also be used to help children learn a second language.
The researchers warned that the study also raises concerns about the negative influence robots might have on vulnerable children.
The study concluded: “A future in which autonomous social robots are used as aids for education professionals or child therapists is not distant. In these applications, the robot is in a position in which the information provided can significantly affect the individuals they interact with.”
In order to protect against any potential pitfalls, the study’s authors said a discussion is now required about whether measures should be put in place to help minimise the risk to children.