Persuasive Robot

Robots are slowly becoming more and more designed to interact with us as opposed to simply being used in an assembly line situation. They will clearly need to respond to our requests, but they will also have to persuade us to do things. How we respond will depend on how they ask us.

When we interact with others and want them to do something, we use a range of techniques to persuade. Perhaps one very effective method is to very confidentially ask someone to do us a favor. How does a robot do that?

That’s a challenge that Nakagawa et al took on and have reported on in the current issue of the International Journal of Social Robotics (1). They chose a little robot with large appealing eyes and just 17 inches tall, but with moving arms, called Robovie-mR2 to persuade a couple of dozen undergraduates to do something boring.

The first task that Robovie need to get done was to get the participants write down their multiplication tables as equations all the way from 1x to 9x. Now Robovie tried just speaking softly and asking, but then getting confidential by putting it hands up to its mouth and asking to whisper the request to the participants.

When asked to listen to the whispered request confidentially, the participants worked more diligently and got through writing down more equations in the time allotted than when just asked quietly.

With this success under their belts, Robovie was given the job of advertising a particular shop in a mall to potential shoppers. It was place on a table in the middle of the entrance and it tried simply suggesting as well as asking people to listen confidentially as it held its hands to its mouth. They were offered the chance to print a coupon for the store.

Almost 80% of the people, who heard the confidential suggestion, printed themselves a coupon while only 40% did when Robovie just invited them too without getting confidential about the recommendation.

It seems that just responding to a request to listen to a confidential suggestion already has us meeting the requester halfway, even when it’s a cute little robot that we know is pushing our buttons and can’t have any personal motives to do us a favor. However, a confidential approach makes it a very persuasive robot


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