|Armin or Arman|
Seventy-eight German students volunteered for what they thought was a chance to help the researchers optimise a social robot prototype. Shown identical pictures of the robot, half the students were told the machine was called Armin (a typical German first name) and that it had been developed in Germany. The other students were told the robot was called Arman (a typical Turkish name; Turks are the largest minority group in Germany) and that it had been developed at a Turkish university.
The students evaluating the supposedly German-built robot Armin, rated it as warmer, of superior design, as having more of a mind, said they felt psychologically closer to it, and expressed more of a willingness to live with it, as compared with the students who evaluated the supposedly Turkish-built Arman. So not only did the German students show a basic preferential bias toward the robot that had a German name and provenance, they also saw it as more human. This fits with previous research showing how readily we are able to perceive out-group members, such as the homeless, as less than human.
"We demonstrated that social categorisation processes generalise to non-human agents," the researchers said. "Even small changes at a seemingly superficial level ... sufficed to bias both the mental models of the robots, and subsequent evaluations. Our results document how deeply ingrained heuristic modes of thinking about others seem to be - may they be human or even non-human."
Eyssel and Kuchenbrandt said their findings have practical implications. Sooner or later, they predicted, robots will enter our homes. "If one and the same product shall be marketed in different countries, it might be valuable to provide the robot with a brand name that signifies in-group membership," they said.
Eyssel, F., and Kuchenbrandt, D. (2011). Social categorization of social robots: Anthropomorphism as a function of robot group membership. British Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8309.2011.02082.x
Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.
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