Robots are more likely to change the minds of children than adults, according to newly published research conducted by University of Plymouth researchers. Titled "Children conform, adults resist: A robot group induced peer pressure on normative social conformity," the study examines how robotics can have an impact on the opinions held by people. More directly, it sought to highlight differences in how both adults and children respond to an experiment similar to a 1950's study called the Asch paradigm. In the original version of the study, the groups were tasked with observing four lines on a screen and then determining which two lines are the same in length. That was contrasted with how people answer when they are by themselves. In this new take on that experiment, the individuals performed the task by themselves and then with a small group of robots.
As expected from those previous results, individuals made very few mistakes. However, things change when placed in a room with the technology and asked to accomplish the same task. The adults, which would ordinarily be expected to be susceptible to the opinions of the group, seemed to resist any peer pressure from the robots. Conversely, children seemed to be very open to input from the mechanical humanoids, regardless of whether the opinions being expressed were wrong. Those between the ages of seven and nine years old scored an 87-percent on the visual test but the scores dropped to an average of 75-percent with the robots in the room. More tellingly, as many as 74-percent of the incorrect answers coincided with an incorrect response from the robots.
The implications of that, according to the researchers, are both positive and negative. Conforming, by itself, can be beneficial in the appropriate circumstances and there may be more opportunities than previously considered for teaching children using A.I. and associated tools or assisting with therapy. On the other hand, the researchers conclude that there could also be negative connotations to the results. For example, the researchers argue that it could mean children are readily influenced by advertising or undesirable ways of thinking when presented products or ideas by robots in a way that's similar to group conformity with humans. At very least, the study indicates that more research is needed and possibly even discussion about protections or regulations to reduce any inherent risks to children.