Children Give in to Robot Peer Pressure

By Bill Andrews | August 15, 2018 1:00 pm
When kids were asked if certain lines are longer or shorter than others, they defered to the robots' answers. (Credit: Tony Belpaeme / Ghent University)

When kids were asked if certain lines are longer or shorter than others, they deffered to the robots’ answers. (Credit: Tony Belpaeme / Ghent University)

Those of us of a certain age may recall the D.A.R.E. program wafting through our classrooms like so many puffs of smoke. In addition to the evils of drugs and alcohol, and the importance of just saying no, the program highlighted the power of peer pressure. No matter how much our friends and classmates might say something’s cool, we shouldn’t be swayed if we don’t want to try it!

It turns out that kids aren’t just susceptible to regular old peer pressure. According to a study published Wednesday in Science Robotics, apocalyptically titled “Children conform, adults resist,” they’re even vulnerable to robot peer pressure. Truly, the future has arrived.

The social robot used to peer pressure kids in the study. (Credit: Vollmer et al., Sci. Robot. 3, eaat7111)

The social robot used to peer pressure kids in the study. (Credit: Vollmer et al., Sci. Robot. 3, eaat7111)

Psst — Beep Boop, Kid

Let’s be clear. These aren’t digital-only bots that have no physical body.

In this experiment, European researchers literally sat down 43 children (ages 7 to 9), one at a time, at a table with three “small humanoid robots.” They asked the kids, and robots, to answer visual questions — “Which of these lines is the same length as that one?” — and when the robots all gave a wrong answer, the kids would too. The authors say the children were “significantly influenced” by their robot peers,” and 74 percent of the kids’ wrong answers were actually the same wrong answer as the robots, word for word.

(The paper actually refers to the robots as confederates, since they’re secretly collaborating with the researchers. It’s the typical language for this type of social test, but does nothing to quell the research’s unsettling vibes.)

The researchers also tested 60 adults, but they fared much better against the robots. “Adults do not appear to normatively conform to the humanoid robots used in the study,” they wrote, seemingly wistfully.

Adults did succumb to regular peer pressure, from other adult humans, so at least we know the test was valid for them. Since it’s harder to test children, the researchers pit them against robots only, and not human peers. In all cases, when the robots gave the right answers, so did the test subjects, so we can’t just blame the kids’ robot-peer sensitivity to a particularly weird day at school.

Our Robots, Ourselves

It might all sound silly (and I didn’t even mention that the robots were “individualized with outfits”!), but this is actually sound and important research. The researchers point out that social robots already exist in such capacities as museum tour guides, therapeutic aids in elder facilities and even early childhood education, with robotic teaching aids already visiting classrooms.

The paper highlights an idea that researchers call the “computers as social actors” hypothesis. It suggests people will “naturally and unconsciously treat computers and other forms of media in a manner that is fundamentally social, attributing human-like qualities to technology.” But we still don’t know too much about just how far it extends.

By determining that adults don’t conform to robot peer pressure, but kids do, the researchers have shown it’s possible to manipulate children with these robots, either inadvertently or maliciously.

“A future in which autonomous social robots are used as aids for education professionals or child therapists is not distant,” the authors write. In other words, the robots are coming — our kids should be ready for them, and confident in their ability to just say no.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: robots, social science
  • Uncle Al

    Truly, the future has arrived.
    “I have seen the future, and it works”, Lincoln Steffens.

  • Wen Vancouwen

    So, children are easily influenced, and they tend to go along with the majority. Gee, who knew, eh? By the way, the past tense of ‘defer’ is spelled ‘deferred’.

  • Frank M

    So kids can be influenced in school to adhere to certain belief systems. And the pundits say children aren’t being brainwashed by liberal teachers. So, which is it?

    • Jason Williams

      Liberal “pundits” tell you kids aren’t brainwashed by liberal teachers. Mmm… The real question is: do you believe them? If you do I have a beach front property I’ll sell to you on the cheap on the outskirts of Omaha, NE

      • Frank M

        Looks like you missed my point. I firmly believe that kids are being conditioned (brainwashed ) by liberal leaning teachers. There no other way to explain the absurdity spouted by some of the younger generation, like “free” everything.

        • Syrin

          And they are getting encouragement to get their genitals surgically mutilated and turn into a transqueer.

          • Raymond Bryan Horton

            Do you really believe that?

        • Jason Williams

          I guess I did…

        • Tricia Locke

          Hey. Not all children are as gullible as the ones you know.

          Believe it or not, some of us aren’t idiots, and I know I wasn’t home-schooled.

  • John Little – omegashock – com

    So, this means that the mainstream media and ‘mainstream’ social media really do have the power to manipulate – especially, the young. And yes, this holds true for adults, too – just somewhat less.

    It’s a ‘brave new world’ out there kids, the Orwell version.

  • Jason Williams

    This is nothing new… Why do you think the political Left made all mass communications media the first targets in the cultural war. They practice the theory invented by Lenin and perfected by Goebbels: “A lie repeated often enough ends up being accepted as truth” That’s what fake news and false narratives are all about.

  • Bryan

    Why are they studying this?

    Who funded the study?
    Who really funded the study?
    Mind control.
    Population control.

    • Atlas Shrugged

      Actually, this study was just a waste of money – people who make toy commercials have proven you can influence kids for decades.

  • ravtodot

    Most children conform; some are oppositional, like my daughter, for instance. This study surely explains the little girl who recently got kudos from Crooked for conforming to leftard BS.

  • Yogi Barra

    Just read any socialist teachings and you find out this was used long ago just with humans. Shout a lie long enough and the populace will believe it. Just look at the Universities here in the US.

    • Atlas Shrugged

      This is a bit different.

      The problem with this study is that it is leaving other things out of context,

      Kids can be influenced by anything – Muppets, people in owl and purple dinosaur costumes – heck, I’ve even witnessed dogs leading kids into doing stuff.

      • Yogi Barra

        Sure is different, it offers the opertunaty for mass production. Also as this is used for various teaching applications the maker can include hidden agendas. Also this agenda that the maker of future toys wishes to advance could and will be implanted. Usually here in the U.S. it is very left or socialist.

        • Tricia Locke


  • Brent

    One more reason to home school!

  • TheBull

    Why do we do this to ourselves? If a robot is giving you trouble, bash its head in – you’ll be striking a blow for humanity. As long as we have our priorities right, we’ve nothing to fear from mechanical tools and devices.

    • Atlas Shrugged

      It’s not the robots – kids are simply easy to influence – think of all the times you’ve heard a kid justify something with “[TV character] said.”

  • Major Remington

    Kids R dumb.

    • Atlas Shrugged

      Not dumb, simply more open to influence.

      A child’s mind is highly ‘plastic’ so that the child can more readily learn while an adult’s brain is ‘rigid’ which is why the older you get the more difficult learning becomes.

      This flexibility of a child’s brain means that not only is the child more easily able to learn, but is also more easily influenced.

    • Tricia Locke

      And you aren’t?

      Were you simply referring to the “Toys R Us” logo or do you really thing a capital R is the way to spell the word which is correctly spelled “are”?

  • Atlas Shrugged

    This isn’t limited to robots – kids can be influenced by anything.

    Woodsy the Owl was designed to influence kids not to pollute – don’t throw that trash on the ground dad, Woodsy the Owl says to give a hoot and not pollute!

    Ditto Smokey the Bear.

    Joe Camel and Spuds McKenzie were banned due to fears that they would influence kids.

    Toy commercials, cartoon characters and Muppets have been influencing children with peer pressure for generations.

    So no real surprise that you can do the same thing with a couple of robots too.

    • Tricia Locke

      This isn’t limited to kids, either: adults are just as easily manipulated, just in different ways than children.

      For instance, political parties use your love of something, whether that be specific political beliefs, trusted figures, or even family to make you join their side. They spread positive lies about themselves so as to gain trust and loyalty. The only reason (at this point in society) that they go to physical locations and campaign is so that they show themselves as a legitimate person.

      The mindless mass of people (which is the majority, sorry for being cynical) conform to social norms (which constantly change (I do not subscribe to a political party, so don’t peg opinions on me)), classical or otherwise. This is seen in people of all ages, and is part of why one sees plenty of people coming out of the wood-works to declare themselves something else.

      This specific instance of the application of social norms suggests that if you don’t change sexual orientation or your opinion about gender, you are not unique. People are trying so hard to avoid a society where people are even similar that virtually everyone tries to do something that would be considered unusual.

      In other words, people are trying so hard to be different that they are actually becoming the same: people who have the capability of thought, but fail to apply it.

      So yes, children can be easily manipulated, but so can everyone else.

      There are no high horses here.

  • EastStreet
  • Liberty 1776

    You will comply.

  • Julian

    lol cute..i would much rather prefer the company of some of these bots than actual people… =_=

  • temporary guest

    ” They asked the kids, and robots, to answer visual questions — “Which of these lines is the same length as that one?” — and when the robots all gave a wrong answer, the kids would too. The authors say the children were “significantly influenced” by their robot peers,” and 74 percent of the kids’ wrong answers were actually the same wrong answer as the robots, word for word.”

    It seems to me that all that proves is that kids, like growing puppies, are eager to please and will believe a lie coming from someone they think is smarter than they are themselves … This principle has been well know my Marxists, Communists, and “Hitler Youth” thing certainly demonstrated how it works. Our teachers unions, “higher education” institutes, Hollywood,and leftist politicians know it, too. This is how human “snowflakes” and “antifa” activists are created in a society where it is all but illegal to say that a man is a man and a woman is a woman.


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