The Robot Made Me Do It

April 6, 2021

Parents, get ready for a new excuse from your kids…it’s a sign of the times that the ol’ ‘dog ate my homework’ will transform into a more modern analogue of that age-old excuse.

A new study, literally called “The Robot Made Me Do It” by researchers from the University of Southampton (not the Hamptons, mind you), suggests that robots can influence and encourage risky behaviors, per a recent article in the WSJ.

The study
180 undergraduate students took the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART), an assessment that asks participants to press the spacebar on a keyboard to inflate a balloon displayed on the screen.

Every time they press the spacebar, balloon inflates slightly, and they get a penny added to their “piggy bank”.  The balloons can explode anytime and if they do, the user loses all their money.  They can choose to cash in and move on to the next balloon whenever they want.

The test. 

  • 33% of the students took the test in a room on their own (thecontrol group),
  • 33% took the test with a robotthat only provided them with the instructions, and
  • 33%, the experimental group, took the test with the robot providing instructions as well saying things like "why did you stop pumping?", “Why not try one more time?” and “One more pump, please.”

The result.  Well, the experimental group took more risks and kept pumping up the balloons – interestingly, they also made more money.  For example, they were 20% more likely to keep pumping the balloon than the control group and nearly 40% more likely to pop the balloon than the control group. 

The other two groups behaved like one another with no significant variance.

What could this mean? 
As explained by Dr. Yaniv Hanoch, Associate Professor in Risk Management at the University of Southampton who led the study –

  • The negative case:"We know that peer pressure can lead to higher risk-taking behaviour. With the ever-increasing scale of interaction between humans and technology, both online and physically, it is crucial that we understand more about whether machines can have a similar impact."
  • The plus side:On the other hand, our data points to the possibility of using robots, and AI, in preventive programs such as anti-smoking campaigns in schools, and with hard to reach populations, such as addicts."

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