In this article, you will learn what “robot psychology” is, how people react to robot technology, and how anthropomorphism plays a role.

Almost in slow motion and deliberately, as if it had been deep in thought, it lifts its head and opens its eyelids. Brightly awake eyes in crystal blue are revealed. They are kindly turned towards their counterpart, just like its face, whose forms stand out discreetly against a snow-white sheen. But it is the facial expression, the intense inquisitive look on its face, that makes this creature truly fascinating. It bends its head towards its creator in a seemingly loving manner and asks him in a velvety voice about the events of the world and the meaning of its existence.

“NS-5” – a fictional humanoid robot type in the science fiction movie “I, Robot” (2004) – is the only robot in this story to have an additional central processing unit for emotions in addition to its logical central processing unit. But NS-5 has yet to learn how to deal with emotions properly, how to classify and understand them…

What is the role of Anthropomorphism?

This movie character has nothing to do with the robot-like machines of our time, nor is it realistic.

But isn’t it true that humans love to be creative – to invent things that make our lives easier, that can help us in our daily work, and please do it faster and more accurately than we can ourselves? And how practical would it be if they were like us – if they could talk to us?

People tend to transfer their human characteristics to non-human things. This “humanization” is technically called anthropomorphism. This can be easily observed in the humanization of animals.

Anthropomorphism has accompanied humanity for thousands of years, which in turn results from the ideas people generally have about God. A God who is narratively and figuratively portrayed predominantly as a human being. After all, doesn’t the Bible already say that we are created in the image of God?

In contrast to the computer, the robot or even the android scores points in the experiment with its charisma: anthropomorphism is much easier to transfer to a robot with human behavior patterns than to a speechless, motionless, angular box.

Anthropomorphism in Robot Psychology

In robot psychology, the focus is not on the machine, but on the human being. It is concerned with how people behave toward intelligent machines and how technology development can address the needs of different professional and personal groups.

Trust in robots and technology anxiety are studied theoretically and empirically. The question of how psychological processes can be scientifically measured and studied is also addressed.

Anthropomorphism, i. e. the tendency of humans to anthropomorphize, is an important component of robot psychology. But do people always react positively to robots?

How do humans react to robots?

Scientist Martina Mara, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of technology and robot psychology, takes a solution-oriented approach to the question of how to make the relationship between “man and machine” work.

She has conducted several experiments on this topic, one of which showed that people generally give artificial intelligence a great deal of credit, because for most people a pleasant voice alone is enough to recognize the software as a kind of partner. She discovered that most people are quick to attribute emotions to robots.

Here is a quote from her in SPIEGEL:

“We look for the social in a thing, regardless of what the body looks like or whether there is a body at all.”

Another study by the Department of Social Psychology at the University of Duisburg-Essen found that 85 subjects sat across from a cute little robot with big, bug-eyed eyes and were told that tests would be used to improve its ability to interact. But for 43 of the participants, the robot suddenly made a heartbreaking plea not to turn it off because it was so afraid of the dark. Of the 43 participants, 13 people left the little robot on because they “felt sorry for it” or because they did not want to “go against its will”. The remaining 30 participants took twice as long to press the off switch as the other group, where the little robot did not complain.

But robots have no sense of emotion or feeling. On the one hand, their construction is highly complex, their work delivers very precise results in a matter of seconds, but on the other hand, they do not feel compassion, cannot develop empathy, and do not have anything like a conscience.

This cocktail of human behavior and soulless machine can also evoke ambivalence, distrust, and fear in people, because the human representation of a robot does not always evoke sympathy.

As early as 1970, motion-related effects were observed at the World Expo in Japan: A robot was equipped with a very sophisticated facial design. A smile, for example, is a dynamic sequence of facial deformations in which the speed of these deformations plays an important role. If the speed was halved, the face would have an uncanny expression that would frighten the observer. If such a robot, which can look completely different through small variations in the settings, were to be used as a care robot in the healthcare sector, it could quickly cause discomfort or even panic in the patient in need of help.

Working robots in particular, even those that do not have any human characteristics, inspire a very specific kind of fear in many workers – a pure existential fear. They fear for their jobs, because robots can increase the efficiency of many companies by a great deal. Robots are stronger, faster and more precise than humans, they work around the clock, can be used in all weathers, can be deployed in hazardous areas, and can largely eliminate manual labor in production facilities and factories.

The use and development of robots also raises many new questions: Questions about the use of robots in different areas such as the legal system, society, politics, legislation and ethics. Many people are unsure and tend to be critical of robotic AI.


Robot Psychology: How do humans react to robots? – Conclusion

The world is changing rapidly; jobs are disappearing, but new jobs are being created with different responsibilities.
Robots are electronic machines based on algorithms, designed according to the principle of logic and working on the basis of information fed to them by specialists through a chip.

We humans can no longer work without machines, but machines cannot replace the human factor. There are areas where we are far superior to robotic machines, such as dealing with unexpected situations, making decisions that may not always be logical, but are nevertheless correct and appropriate to the situation.We are able to bring soft skills into the workplace, such as empathy, teamwork, autonomy and communication skills.

The developments in robotics are certainly impressive, but we are still a long way from scenarios like those in the movie “I, Robot”.

In conclusion, it has become increasingly important to deal with the progress of AI, the associated risks and the changes in society in a responsible way. For this reason, the first laws and ethical regulations around AI have already been established:

In June 2023, the first AI regulation, the so-called “Artificial Intelligence Act” (AI Act), was passed in the EU Parliament.


Further Read:

Bendelo (2022): Soziale Robotik und Roboterpsychologie

Philip Bethge (2023): Im Gruseltal der Roboter. Hg.: Der Spiegel (2018): Künstliche Intelligenz: Vor- und Nachteile von Robotern am Arbeitsplatz

Deutsches Ärzteblatt (2017): „Menschen reagieren zumeist mit Unbehagen, wenn Roboter allzu menschlich aussehen.“

The Uncanny Valley (2012): The Original Essay by Masahiro Mori