According to a new study published in Computers of Human Behavior, humans can turn to robots for a “source of consolation and security.”
Robots are being built and tested to help humans with many things — from delivering food to folding our clothes. As we look to them to perform day-to-day tasks in the future, researchers are working more and more toward giving robots human qualities, like the ability to give emotional support.
RESEARCHERS FROM NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY WANTED TO SEE IF IT’S POSSIBLE…
Researchers from Northwestern University, Cornell University and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel wanted to see if it’s possible to have robots comfort people in times of emotional need. They conducted a test simulating a scenario where humans almost always require emotional support: when they’re thinking about dating.
They got the participants to “share” their dating experiences — specifically, times when they felt good about themselves — with Travis, an 11-inch, faceless robot. Travis would then give a response that was supposed to mirror positive or negative reactions, like a “cold shoulder” or encouraging statements like “Wow, that’s really great!”
Afterwards, they were filmed introducing themselves to potential romantic matches and were asked to self-evaluate their eligibility. Those who received favorable “reactions” from Travis thought that they were more date-worthy, but those who got the “cold shoulder” felt less so.
They also concluded that humans can turn to robots for a “source of consolation and security.”
Ultimately, researchers in this study wanted to find out whether humans will change their behavior based on a robot’s “emotional” response. They also concluded that humans can turn to robots for a “source of consolation and security.”
HUMAN ROBOT INTERACTION RESEARCH MAY SEEM LIKE A RECENT PHENOMENON
Human-robot interaction research may seem like a recent phenomenon, but scientists have actually been looking into it for a long time. In 1966, MIT scientist Joseph Wezenbaum unveiled ELIZA, one of the first chatbots. With a script called “DOCTOR,” ELIZA could impersonate a psychotherapist and identify certain words and phrases before formulating a response.
More recently, Europe is currently gearing up for a world where robots may have their own legal rights. Sexual relationships with robots have become an actual discussion of morality, and there’s even an entire campaign against it.
As Quartz points out, studying human responses to robots could make them better at performing roles that they’re more likely to take over from humans in the near future, like fulfilling customer service requests. But humans are probably less likely to turn to robots to support them in times of romantic strife. After all, it’s probably going to take awhile for humans to see venting and sharing good news with robots as a normal thing.
But then again, some people apparently feel better talking about things to their pets than their best friends, so anything is definitely possible.