Engineering 101

A touch from a conversing robot provides a positive emotional state

A recent, albeit small study found that people who were touched by a humanoid robot when conversing with it reported a better emotional state and were likely to comply with a request from the robot. Laura Hoffmann of Ruhr University Bochum, Germany, and Nicole C. Krämer of the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, presented these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Researchers are now exploring the effects of physical contact with robots. To date, some studies detect meaningful effects while others find none.

The study recruited 48 students to engage in a school counseling conversation with a humanoid robot (Softbank Robotics’ NAO). During conversation, the robot briefly and seemingly spontaneously patted the back of some of the participant’s hands. In response to the touch, most participants smiled and laughed, and none pulled away. Those who were touched were more likely than those not touched to go along with the robot urging that they show interest in a particular academic course discussed during the conversation and reported a better emotional state after their conversation than those who were not touched. However, those who were not touched rated their opinion of the robot favorably as well.

The researchers conclude that robot-initiated touch during conversation can have a positive effect on people’s experience. In addition, the impact on request compliance could be harnessed to use robots for motivational purposes, such as to persuade people to exercise.

Original Release: Eureka Alert

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