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Many young kids prefer to befriend robots over humans now, shocking study reveals

Many young kids prefer to befriend robots over humans now, shocking study reveals
From the time we had robots, we also had a barrage of sci-fi stories depicting an apocalyptic robot uprising as a unforgiving inevitability. Heck, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I didn’t side-eye my computers and toasters back when the Terminator films were released. However, as technology becomes more integral to our lives, do the newer generations harbour the same robo-cynicism as we do?

New research has suggested the exact opposite, in fact. Scientists have found that children between the ages of 3 and 6 were more inclined to trust robots over humans, even when it comes to learning new information and forming social connections.

To understand how children discern and trust information from different sources, researchers divided 111 children into several groups. Each collective was then shown videos where both humans and robots labeled objects. Some objects were familiar to the children, while others were entirely new.

To test the trust of the younguns, both humans and robots then intentionally misnamed some familiar objects, such as calling a plate a spoon. This revealed a fascinating trend.

"Children's conceptualisations of the agents making a mistake differed, such that an unreliable human was selected as doing things on purpose, but not an unreliable robot," the researchers explained. This suggests that children are more forgiving of robots’ mistakes, perceiving them as less intentional compared to human errors.

Meanwhile, when both humans and robots demonstrated equal reliability, children were more likely to turn to robots for naming new objects and believed the robots’ labels to be accurate. Additionally, when asked about whom they would share secrets with, prefer as friends, or want as teachers, children favored robots over humans.

There were notable individual differences: older children displayed more trust in humans than younger ones, but this was only when the robot had proven unreliable. While we don’t know why exactly, the study indicated that children overall considered reliable robots more trustworthy than reliable humans.

These findings hold significant implications for educational settings, particularly as technology becomes increasingly integrated into children's lives. Robots could play a pivotal role in learning environments, potentially enhancing educational experiences by being perceived as trustworthy sources of information. The trust children place in robots today could very well shape the future of education and social interactions tomorrow.

The findings of this research have been published in Computers in Human Behavior and can be accessed here.


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