By Ed Buckser ‘21
Robot teachers may sound like impossible science fiction, but researchers at the University of Plymouth believe that they could one day become a reality. A recent study conducted by Professors Anna Volmer and Tony Belpaeme found that children’s opinions may be easily influenced by pressure from robots – far more so than by those of adults.
Vollmer and Belpaeme demonstrated this susceptibility through clever usage of the Asch Paradigm, a test designed to illustrate the effects of peer pressure. A simple but effective puzzle, the Asch Paradigm consists of four lines on a paper or screen. Subjects are asked to determine which of the lines are of equivalent length, and give their answers.
People – adults and children alike – who take the test alone rarely get it wrong. However, when in the presence of peers who deliberately give incorrect answers, subjects often feel pressured to agree with the crowd.
The Asch Paradigm is normally conducted with other humans as the peers in question. However, Vollmer and Belpaeme instead had subjects take the test in the presence of robot “peers” who gave incorrect answers.
The adults in the study were largely unaffected by the robots’ presence. The children, on the other hand, made far more errors. 87% of children gave correct answers in the control group, compared to 75% of the children who were pressured by the robots – a whopping 12% difference. Perhaps even more telling is the fact that 74% of the children’s wrong answers were the same as those given by the robots.
Vollmer and Bielefield’s study has wide implications for the future of robotics. Robots may soon be used in childcare and social work to teach and comfort children, who have been shown to respond to robots more strongly than adults. Indeed, Plymouth researchers have already applied robots in their ALIZ-E and L2TOR programs, which counseled diabetic children and taught preschool language classes respectively. However, Plymouth researchers are also concerned about how their findings could be exploited for advertising to children, controlling what they think and feel.
Whatever form the field of robotics takes form in the coming century, it will undoubtedly have a profound effect on our daily lives. Plymouth researchers have stated that they believe a “regulatory framework” will soon be necessary to ensure the safe and beneficial use of robots for future generations.
Short caption here would also be great
As compared to the presence of human peers? In other words, the robots didn’t sway the subjects’ responses as much as human peers would?
Was the control group comprised of subjects taking the Asch Paradigm test alone or in the presence of human peers?
University of Plymouth. (2018, August 15). Robots have power to significantly influence children’s opinions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2018 from
Asch Paradigm Picture:
By Fred the Oyster, CC BY-SA 4.0,
By D J Shin [CC BY-SA 3.0
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL
(http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons