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In: Proceedings Third Cognitive Technology Conference CT’99, August, San Francisco.


Katherine Elizabeth Bumby * and Kerstin Dautenhahn

University of Reading, Department of Cybernetics Whiteknights PO Box 225, Reading RG6 6AY UnitedKingdom


Cognitive Technology (CT) is concerned with bridging the gap between the technological (i.e. digital) and the human. Attitudes of humans towards technology can give important indications about how human cognition develops along with the tools that people create to enhance it. User attitudes towards computers have been studied extensively in Human Computer Interaction (HCI). Results show 1) a general tendency of humans to anthropomorphise computers, 2) significant influences of social and cultural factors ([Dryer, C. 1999], [Takeuchi et al, 1998]) and 3) how these factors can be accounted for in interface design. Such findings have contributed to the design of software tools and user interfaces, demonstrating the need to carefully assess the capabilites and affective characteristics of users in order to build human friendly tools.

This paper is based on the assumption that studies of how humans relate to technology can and should be applied not only to software and interface technology, but also to robots which are increasingly becoming part of our society, e.g. as tools (e.g. service robots such as HelpMate, and toys (e.g. Furby:

In order to advance our knowledge on human-robot relationships, this paper reports on an initial study on how people perceive robots. We discuss which concepts may be most usefully adapted from HCI to robotics and present a case study of how people perceive and interact with robots (studying in particular children between the ages of seven and eleven). We hope that over time such research as we present in this paper could provide a development of guidelines for the design of robots for general usage (e.g. service robots). Due to the engineering basis of service robotics most research effort is usually investigated into technical aspects, rather than into HCI and CT related issues. However, the robot’s appearance, believability, and above all its social skills needed for interaction and communication with humans in society, are expected to be as important as the robot’s technical abilities. A clear example for such demands is the area of rehabilitation robotics where people depend on and interact with machines over long periods of time and often with close physical contact (e.g. the ISAC system which can support sick and physically challenged person, developed at IRL, Vanderbilt University,

* Address: 48 St. Monica Grove, Crossgate Moor, Durham DH1 4AT, United Kingdom. Developing the ‘human’ side of robotics could produce systems which can be useful members and partners which co-exist with people in human society.

The paper is divided as follows: We first discuss research in HCI on how humans relate to machines, and how machines/agents can be designed so that they appear believable and show personality. The paper then presents aims and design of the present work which investigates children’s attitudes towards robots. Results are presented and critically discussed with respect to the hypotheses which are underlying this study.


Behaviour constitutes actions and reactions and is therefore dependent on others’ behaviour. This suggests that the ability to assess the implications of any given individual’s behaviour is of the utmost importance. The assessment of behaviour is used to infer internal states of the person being observed and to judge an appropriate responsive behaviour to place the interaction within the social world. As Baron and Byrne state (Baron & Byrne, 1997): “for only if we understand the causes behind others’ actions can we hope to make sense of the social world”.

Baron and Byrne (Baron & Byrne, 1997) propose analysis takes place in three stages: firstly, behaviour is categorised; secondly, the behaviour is characterised in order to infer specific traits; and finally, the inferences made about the behaviour are corrected in the light of situational information.

People tend to characterise behaviour in two ways. One way of characterising behaviour is whether it appears to be prompted by internal or external causes. This method tends to be used when presented with new, unexpected events or when people encounter unpleasant outcomes/ events, however it has the significant disadvantage of requiring a large amount of cognitive processing and is therefore highly time consuming. People therefore often use universal judgements to allow decisions to be made much more quickly, although at the expense of accuracy.

Universal judgements tend to be formulated around attitudes and stereotypes: i.e. generalisations of perceived reality. Attitudes and stereotypes are both learned and often function as schemas (i.e. cognitive frameworks that organise conceptual or situational information). The attitude-to- behaviour process model suggests that an event triggers both an attitude and knowledge of the social norms for the given situation, that this then shapes the perception of the event and this in turn influences behaviour. This suggests a low level of consciousness in processing: this would be consistent with findings of Nass and Steuer (Nass & Steuer, 1993) that people can be cued into treating computers as social actors even if they consider such behaviour to be inappropriate.

Schemas have been discussed in relation to the representation of attitudes and stereotypes (Baron & Byrne, 1997). These schema provide models of events, people and situations and help people to assess any situation they meet. If a person encounters a situation they have been in before the schema that was formed then will be accessed. However, if a situation has not been encountered before the person will assimilate other relevant schemas in order to assess the new situation.

Use of schema may be particularly important for the design of robots as people are likely to be unfamiliar with them and therefore have few appropriate schema (this lack of appropriate schema

is even more prominent in children as they have had significantly fewer experiences). During the design process it would clearly be beneficial to consider which schema may be prompted as associated with robots.


The most commonly used Factor model of personality within psychology is the five-factor model (Digman, 1997). This model has five dimensions: Extroversion; Agreeableness; Conscientiousness; Emotional Stability; Openness to Experience. The interaction of personality dimensions can be sub-divided into three main categories: similarity of personality, complementarity of personality and oppositional personalities.

Most research finds that similar personalities attract. For example, Newcomb and Svehla (Newcomb & Svehla, 1937) found that people in successful marriages tended to show a high level of similarity of personality. Dryer and Horowitz (Dryer & Horowitz, 1997) found that people in successful marriages also showed a high level of complementarity (and they theorised that this was a more important factor than similarity). This is supported by Krokoff, Gottman and Roy (Krokoff, Gottman & Roy, 1988) who found that people prefer to take on dissimilar roles in relationships. This may be very important in the design of agents as it seriously affects which roles/ tasks it is appropriate for a robot to assume/ perform. If humans perceive robots as performing purely ‘servant’ like roles, it is important that the agent assumes a suitable personality/ behaviour type. Dryer and Horowitz also found that successful couples tended to perceive themselves as having very similar personalities: this illustrates that not only should actual personality be taken into consideration when designing agents, but also perceived personality. Oppositional personalities only tend to becomes important when similarity is paired with undesirable characteristics (this can extend beyond personality and include such factors as economic circumstance and physical attractiveness). If someone has undesirable characteristics they tend to prefer people who have opposite characteristics (Novak & Lerner, 1968). This implies that it would generally be good to design robots with positive personalities even if the user does not have a positive personality.


It has previously been suggested that part of human behaviour categorisation is to classify it into specific character traits and as such the attribution of such characteristics in robots must be considered. However, it must also be considered whether or not people will actually attribute specific personality and social traits to an agent before the type of attribution can be examined.

Nass et al (Nass et al, 1995) illustrate that if “machines are endowed with personality like characteristics, people will respond to them as if they have personalities”. It was found that subjects distinguished between dominance characteristics of the computers and that affiliation and competence levels were linked to dominance levels in a similar manner as would be expected between humans. It was also found that subjects preferred to interact with computers with a similar personality to themselves, and found such interactions more satisfying than those who interacted with unmatched personalities. These results can be compared to those of Newcomb and Svehla (Newcomb & Svehla, 1937). It can be seen that the preference shown for people of similar personality in the experiments of Newcomb and Svehla compares favourably with the results found by Nass et al, even though one of the partners in Nass et al’s experiment is a

computer. This favourable comparison of results illustrates that people can indeed be induced to treat computers as if they were people.

Nass et al (Nass et al, 1995) illustrate convincingly that humans do treat computers/ agents as if they were social actors, but what is it that prompts people to do this? This is a particularly important question given that most people treat agents as social actors even when they know this type of behaviour is inappropriate (Nass & Steuer, 1993). This contrast between belief and behaviour can, interestingly, also be observed in other areas of purely human interaction. For example, Sia et al (Sia et al, 1997) illustrates the concept of discrepancy between actual behaviour and what is perceived as appropriate behaviour. Sia et al attribute this discrepancy to the fact that the Chinese couple used in the experiment did not conform to the stereotype of a Chinese person at that time. The cues that the Chinese couple offered were those of affluent, middle class, white people. Similarly, in the experiments of Nass et al the cues being offered are those usually associated with human social interactions: not those of human-computer interactions.


But how can personality traits be expressed in robots? Traits tend to be characterised by specific behaviours and it these behaviours which offer the opportunity for suggesting personality. Nass et al (Nass et al, 1994) show that by isolating behaviours which humans tend to categorise as characterising specific personality traits it is possible to create computers which prompt people into behaving as though the computers actually possess that character trait. Nass et al. also illustrate that minimal cues can be used to prompt the attribution of a personality: this will be of particular importance in the early days of incorporating personality into robots as it reduces the load on the technology.

Other researchers have also experimented with expressing personality. Dryer (Dryer, 1999) found that agents which were “co-operative, outgoing, calm, organised, or curious” were preferred to those which were “competitive, withdrawn, anxious, lax or close-minded” (this would correspond to the types of personalities preferred in humans). Dryer (Dryer, 1999) also found that people preferred strongly expressed personalities which were expressed specifically (rather than vaguely), that they tended to prefer agents with similar personalities to themselves (and in appropriate places confounding personalities) and that the most popular types of agents were those which expressed a foible. However, Dautenhahn (Dautenhahn, 1999) points out that care must be taken with taking human personality preferences for other humans too far when comparing them to those involving agents. She suggests that although some types of personality may be viewed positively in humans, this may not be the case with agents: “While a socially pro- active human might be perceived as persistent (positive) or pushy (negative), a robot with the same traits is likely to appear intrusive and scary”.

Gender also has a distinct effect on how people perceive others: if gender cues could be embedded into agents then similar effects may be observed in human-agent interaction. Gender perception affects many perceptions, including salience (Robinson & McArthur, 1982), how

seriously a person is taken, the type of knowledge a person is likely to possess, intelligence,

levels of extroversion etc

Reeves and Nass (Reeves & Nass, 1996) consider the effects of voice

.. and gender in two slightly different ways: firstly, they consider the effects of male and female

voices; secondly they consider the effects of masculine and feminine voices. Their research showed that even the minimal (and realistically implementable) cue of voice can be used to

prompt the male/ female and masculine/ feminine stereotypes which are normally applied to humans to be applied to agents.

Appearance also has a distinct effect on how personality is perceived. In everyday life we are used to responding much more positively to attractive people than we do to unattractive people. Indeed in social interactions people are more likely to seek out those who are of a similar level of attractiveness to themselves. The literature we grow up with as children also illustrates that we associate physical appearance with personality: ‘baddies’ tend to be ugly and ‘goodies’ tend to be attractive; the witch tends to be old, with a big nose and lots of warts whereas the princess tends to be tall and slender with beautiful golden hair. Dryer (Dryer, 1999) found that in designing agents appearance was, unsurprisingly, important. He found that friendlier agents tended to be represented by “rounder shapes, bigger faces and happier expressions” and that dominant agents tended to be represented by “bold colours, big bodies and erect postures”. It therefore seems reasonable that the appearance of robots should be carefully designed to fit their function.

It should be noted that in all the research into personality perception there is a confounding factor of culture. We are all very aware that cultures vary the world over, and yet a lot of research considering agent design completely ignores the question of culture. In designing an agent it will become progressively more necessary for either the agent to be culturally adaptive or for agents to be designed specifically for given cultures, see supporting arguments in (O’Neill-Brown,



A believable agent is one which “provides the illusion of life, thus permitting the audience’s suspension of disbelief” (Bates, 1994).

Believability is important as it allows interaction with an agent on a level which is totally engaged: it allows the full potential of both agent and human to be accessed. It is also important to note that believability is in the eye of the observer, it is not a property of an agent itself. “Believability is in the eye of the observer which means that it is influenced by the observer’s individual personality, naïve psychology and empathy mechanisms” (Dautenhahn, 1997).

What is it that makes an agent believable? Many different people have theorised ways of making agents believable. Reeves and Nass (Reeves & Nass, 1996) show that by studying how humans make interactions believable, it is possible to simulate these behaviours and create a believable agent. They also show that the sophistication required to prompt believability is minimal, i.e. if the ‘essence’ is portrayed detail is not required. This lack of requirement for detail is supported by the findings of the cartoon industry (which is obviously significantly older than the software agent industry). Artists within the cartoon industry found that “the practical requirement of producing hundreds of thousands of these drawings forced…(them)…to use extremely simple, nonrealistic imagery, and to seek and abstract precisely what was crucial” (Bates, 1994).

Believability can often take the form of anthropomorphisation. Guthrie (Guthrie, 1993) states that “anthropomorphism is spontaneous, plausible, and even compelling”: anthropomorphism is a natural tendency. Essentially people will tend to anthropomorphise objects even if there is no intentional design characteristics to prompt it. This can be observed in people’s anthropomorphisation of their cars: many people I know have names for their cars which they

feel represent the car’s ‘temperament’. It would therefore appear eminently obvious to take advantage of this tendency: however, there are many problems with creating anthropomorphic characters thus making creating agents with personalities a strongly investigated research topic (see Trappl & Petta, 1997).


The present study aims to identify how people (specifically children) may perceive robots and what type of behaviour they may exhibit when interacting with robots.

Earlier the use of schema in human cognition was discussed. It would seem probable that as robots are, at present, not common features of everyday life that children would possess very few schema specifically relating to robots and their characteristics. This means that they will probably combine several schema that they do possess in which to incorporate robots. The most likely schema for the children to use are those with which they are most familiar: for example, social settings and roles and tasks which are familiar to them. The usage of social settings and familiar contexts is likely to suggest that the children perceive the robots as social entities. However, the schema which the children choose to use could be of great importance. If the children choose positive roles and tasks for the robots (and choose to place them in highly social settings) this should be encouraged due to the effect of schema on attitudes and stereotypes (i.e. if robots are being viewed positively this attitude should be promoted). Equally, if it is found that robots are placed in more negative schema this should be actively discouraged. This theory leads to the following three hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: Children will tend to show robots in social settings (study b).

Hypothesis 2: Children will tend to treat robots socially (study c).

Hypothesis 3: Children will tend to place the robots in settings familiar to themselves (or performing similar tasks or with familiar people/ roles) (study b).

‘Agent Believability’, as discussed above, considers the natural tendency of people to anthropomorphise/ animate robots. It suggests that the tendency to anthropomorphise/ animate is a tendency which develops very early in child development (if not innate).

However, earlier discussions suggest that even though this tendency occurs ‘naturally’ it can also be manipulated to achieve certain behavioural responses (and that this manipulation can be achieved with minimal cues). This theory leads to hypotheses four and five:

Hypothesis 4: The children will tend to anthropomorphise/ animate the robots in the pictures and stories they write (studies a and b).

Hypothesis 5: The children will tend to anthropomorphise/ animate the robots in study c even though there are no intentional cues (the cues to this behaviour must therefore be minimal).

‘Personality’ considers that the personality of both user and agent affect the interaction and perception of an agent. This suggests that different children will interact in different ways with the robots during study c, for example, children with dominant personalities will show a higher level of interaction with the robots. This leads to hypothesis six:

Hypothesis 6: The personality of the children will affect the level and nature of their interaction with the robots (study c).

It is noted that the robots to be used in study c are very basic and as such may not excite a high level of interest and believability. However, if the robots do prove to be engaging, therefore suggesting their believability, it shows that very low levels of technology are required to provide a believable robot. This would be consistent with the findings of cartoonists who clearly use

very simplified representations of life to exact believable characters.

This leads to question 1:

Question 1: Will the robots be perceived as believable? (study c)

Intuitively, it would appear that children are likely to portray robots as violent. This impression is formed from the high level of violent robots in Science Fiction, for example the Terminator (“The Terminator”) and “The Daleks” (“Doctor Who”), and also the periodic scare mongering in the media surrounding robots. However, there are also some non-violent robots in Science Fiction, for example R2D2 (“Star Wars”). This intuition therefore leads to question 2:

Question 2: Will the robots be portrayed as violent? (study a, b & c)

‘Agent Personality’ considers the importance of gender. It illustrates that specific choice of gender attributes a multitude of stereotypes to the object of attribution. It should also be considered that attribution of gender (rather than neuter) tends to suggest the robot is perceived as a social entity (gender can in many ways be considered a social construct: particularly the stereotypes associated with gender. This theory leads to questions three and four:

Question 3: Will the children tend to attribute gender to the robots? (studies a, b & c)

Question 4: Will the children tend to attribute specific gender to the robots?

(studies a, b & c)

‘User Cognition’ considers that much of our perception of life is shaped by the attitudes and stereotypes we, as humans, possess. Therefore a highly significant subject is whether or not we possess a stereotype of a robot. This leads to question five:

Question 5: Will the children possess a stereotype of a robot? (studies a & b)


The study was performed on a sample of thirty eight children between the ages of seven and eleven from St. Margarets school, County Durham. For practical purposes this large sample was divided into groups of nine or ten children. This division was based purely on year in school.

The assessment took the form of three sub-studies. Studies a and b were observational whilst study c took the form of an informal but guided interview. The school allowed three half hour long sessions to be scheduled with each group.

During the first session study a was completed by all children and study b was started. During the second session study b was completed. During the third session study c was performed.

Study a involved each child drawing a picture of a robot. Study b involved each child writing a story about the robot they had drawn. This method of assessment was chosen, as drawing and writing are forms that the children are particularly familiar within a school environment. Studies a and b were designed to assess the attitudes of the children to robots in general.

Study c was performed in a group situation and involved the children observing and interacting with some robots and discussing what they thought of the robots. This study was performed as an informal but guided, filmed interview. This method of assessment was chosen as it allowed some flexibility to allow for the age and interest level of the children. Study c allowed some observation of what children perceive robots to be like in real life and how they do/ might interact and react to them. This study was intended to give an overview rather than detailed results.


The subject group was an opportunity sample of thirty eight children between the ages of seven and eleven (this represents school years three to six). All children attended St. Margarets Junior School in Durham City, County Durham, U.K.

The sample was divided into four groups of either nine or ten children. This division was based on school year. This division structure had several functions:

it eased organising when children could be removed from classes in order to perform the study

children remained with their friends thus allowing a more relaxed atmosphere

children in each group were approximately the same age and so held similar skills (including writing, drawing, oral and aural skills)

It was attempted to achieve an equal gender balance within each group of children

Most of the children fell within the BC1 socio-economic category: i.e. most parents perform jobs within education, medicine, business etc.


Study a was performed and completed within session one by all children in the sample. In this study the children were seated in groups of five or four around tables with as equal a number of males and females at each table as was possible. All children were given an identical piece of plain A4 paper. The children provided their own pencils (as is standard practice within the school).

The children were asked to draw a robot. No prompting as to what type of robot was expected was given. Indeed, if a question was asked as to what type of robot was required, the children were simply asked to draw what they thought a robot looked like.


Study b was performed during sessions one (after completion of study one) and two. Some children did not fully complete this study (no pressure was put on them, although they were encouraged to complete it). Some children requested to take this study home with them to complete. As completing work at home is standard practice within the school this request was agreed to in order to maintain as high a level of familiarity as possible.

During study b the children sat at the same tables as for study one. The children were all given identical pieces of wide lined paper. As for study one the children used their own writing implements.

The children were asked to write a story about the robot they had drawn. No prompting as to content of the story was given except that it should be about their robot. No length of story was specified: simply that they should write as much as possible. Encouragement was given so as to acquire stories which were as complete as possible.


In study c two robots are observed and interacted with by the children. The design of these robots is described in ’Design of Robots’, the procedure of the testing is described in ’Procedure’.



The robots are built using Fischertechnik and the Fischertechnik interface. The Fischertechnik interface is programmed using Lucky Logic which is a flow diagram based language.

The robots have two wheel drive using two wheels placed near the front of the robot, a castor is used at the rear of the robot for support. Each front wheel is controlled by a separate motor. This allows the direction of the robot to be controlled. The robots have a bumper placed on the front which allows touch to be sensed to the left, right and centre of the robot. Figure 1 shows the physical structure of the robots.

A pen was built for the robots to be exhibited in. The pen was 4’*4’, slightly

A pen was built for the robots to be exhibited in. The pen was 4’*4’, slightly raised from the ground with a lip around the edge (this was sufficiently high for the robots’ bumpers to be sensitive to it). In the centre was a mushroom lamp which could be switched on and off.


The programs for the robots are based on Valentino Braitenberg’s (Braitenberg, 1984) thought experiment vehicles in his book “Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology”. Braitenberg developed a series of programmable behaviours which use very simple sensors and only a few connections.

Two behaviours were programmed for this experiment: one which veered away from light (in future termed as the ‘fear’ behaviour; and one which veered towards light (in future termed as the ‘liking’ behaviour). This was achieved using two light sensors. Fear behaviour is achieved using negative connections between sensors and motors on the same side (see figure 3). The ‘liking’ behaviour is achieved by having positive connections between sensors and motors on opposite sides (see figure 3).

Apart from being reactive to light both behaviours also react to bumping into objects. Reacting to

Apart from being reactive to light both behaviours also react to bumping into objects. Reacting to a collision takes priority over reacting to light. The programs are written using Lucky Logic

(the software supplied by Fischertechnik). The programs are written on a PC and then downloaded (via a serial port) to the interface on the robots. The interface can only store


Study c was performed and completed during session three. The children sat around two sides of a pen: left and top. The interviewer sat at the bottom left corner. An additional person sat at the bottom right corner with a video recorder (their role being purely to record the proceedi ngs). See figure 4.

Apart from being reactive to light both behaviours also react to bumping into objects. Reacting to

The interviewer gave a brief introduction as to what was going to happen during the session. The children watched as programs were downloaded from the PC to the robot interface. If the children asked any questions these were answered as fully as possible, or delayed until a more suitable point in the interview. Through the interview the children saw the robots with both the ‘Fear’ and the ‘Liking’ programs and were asked to describe what they saw. If any interesting

comments were made these were pursued. The children were also able to interact with the robots. This took two forms: firstly they could touch the robots’ bumpers and therefore control where they went; secondly they used a torch as a light source when the robots held the ‘Liking’ program, and could thus get the robot to follow them (as the robot is attracted to light). At the conclusion of the session the children were allowed more time to ask any questions. The children were also asked if they wanted an explanation as to how the robots worked, and if there was a positive response, a brief, simple description was given.


In studies a and b categories were identified which characterised the pictures drawn/ stories written. This was achieved by repeated consideration of all the drawings, searching for repetitive characteristics. The frequency of these characteristics was then recorded taking into account subject age and gender.

In study c transcripts were taken from the video recordings of the sessions. Purely anecdotal evidence was taken from these transcripts allowing general impressions.


Due to the sample size it was largely inappropriate to perform statistical analysis on the results for studies a and b. However, certain categories produced data suitable for statistical analysis. Where statistical analysis is used it is performed using chi-square.


Study a results consider the pictures that the children drew. Figure 5 shows an example of a robot drawn in a preliminary study which exhibits many of the characteristics being considered.

Figure 5 Many of the robots were based on geometric forms (significance p<0.2). Despite this use

Figure 5

Many of the robots were based on geometric forms (significance p<0.2).

Despite this use of geometric form many of the children gave the robots human feature faces (significance p<0.001). Although many of the children also drew the robots in humanoid shape this did not provide a significant result.

Despite the lack of significance in the use of humanoid form many of the children showed a preference for the robots to use feet as their method of movement (as opposed to wheels which the remainder of the sample used) (significance p<0.1).

The children had a tendency to not show the robots as having weapons (significance p<0.001). However, all those who did show the robots with weapons were male: it must be noted however that this can not be considered statistically due to the sample size.

The children had a tendency not to show the robots as household servants (p<0.001).

Few of the children showed the robot they drew as having either lights (significance p<0.001) or a battery (significance p<0.001).

The children tend not to attribute gender to the robot.


Study b results consider the stories that the children wrote. Figure 6 gives an example story.

Mr. Weird

One day a friendly man called Michael Young who was actually old! Ha, ha, was very lonely. He wanted something to be with but he didn’t want a pet though. That night he didn’t go to sleep wondering what to keep him happy. Suddenly an idea flashed into his head "Yes that’s it I’ll make a robot". What an excellent idea he had. So straight away he got to work fixing and working non-stop all week. But he decided he needed a break so he had a weekend break and started working again. So by the next week it was fabulous. "Marvellous" he said with joy enthusiastically. So he turned the ON button on and it worked. But it actually started speaking. "Gosh" Michael said, "that is weird". "What is my name?" asked the robot. "Well" said Michael, "Why not Mr Weird because that’s what you are." he replied. "That’s fine with me" Mr Weird said. "I’m hungry" cried the robot. "What about vegetables?" "No! Absolutely not. Yuck, yuck and more yuck". "Oh, well" he said and fed him food and then suddenly SPLAT! He was sick all over the floor. Now do you know why he was sick all over the floor? Because he had eaten too many doughnuts. "Oh dear" said Michael "I’ll have to clean it up". When he had cleared it up he rang his best friend, he said "I’ve got a speaking robot!" "Really! I’ll be over in ten minutes or maybe twenty, bye." But first he rang up his friends who rang up their friends and so on. When he came he said "I’ve brought my video camera. Is that all right?" "Yes" and every few minutes more people came and after about an hour there were about 199 people there. Finally Michael said "You’ve got to go now". He got dozens of letters and friends and was not a lonely man anymore and then he turned to the robot and said "Thank you". The end.

Figure 6

There is a tendency for the children to not portray robots as being violent (significance p<0.01). However, if the robot is portrayed as being violent the subject who wrote the story tends to be male (significance p<0.05).

The children tend to attribute gender to the robots (rather than simply referring to it as ‘it’(significance p<0.001). If subject gender is considered it can be seen that the males tend to attribute gender to the robots (significance p<0.01). The sample of females is too small to allow statistical analysis, although it would appear from the values that it is likely that females will follow a similar trend to the males.

If gender is attributed to the robots there is a tendency to attribute a male gender (significance p<0.001). If subject gender is considered it can be seen that the males tend to attribute male gender to the robots (significance p<0.001). The sample of females is too small to allow

statistical analysis, although it would appear from the values that it is likely that females will follow a similar trend to the males.

Figure 7 illustrates how subjects allocated gender. The arrows distinguish the direction of the tendency.

statistical analysis, although it would appear from the values that it is likely that females will

The children tended to place the robot(s) in familiar settings, or show them performing familiar tasks etc. (significance p<0.02).

The children will tend to attribute free will to the robots (significance p<0.001).

The children tend to place the robot(s) in social contexts (significance p<0.001).


Many of the children showed a reasonably high level of familiarity with the technology being used. For example interest was shown in the software the PC used: “What does your PC run?” (Year 6), others showed recognition of the circuitry used on the robots: “Is that a chip, coz it looks like it?” (Year 4). At other times, however, creative rather than scientific explanations were given for the technology: “And that’s a little city that lives inside its head” [with reference to the circuitry on the robots] (Year 5). Similarly a mixture of scientific and creative (usually anthropomorphic or animist) explanations of behaviour are given by the children. The following examples show a scientific (although incorrect) and an anthropomorphic explanation as to why the robot avoids the light: “It’s too hot for the engine” (Year 3) and “Coz it feels like its giving it a headache!” (Year 5).

The children also show interest in the functionality and construction of the robots. They often made suggestions as to what might explain an action of the robots’ or as to how they might have been made (they also asked questions with high frequency). For example, the following are suggestions as to what the serial port connection does (in actual fact it allows the programs to be downloaded from computer to robot): “Is that like putting energy in it?”; “No, that puts messages…”; “Messages into the robot and then, and then…”; “It’s like electricity.” (Year 5).

Despite familiarity with the technology used all groups show a tendency to overestimate the capabilities of the robots, for example: “Why don’t you give them both swords and put them out and start letting them fight?” (Year 3) and “It could play football” (Year 6). Similarly, despite watching the controlling program being downloaded into the robot from the computer the children still tend to endow the robots with free will: “Because it doesn’t like it!”; “Because it doesn’t want to…”; “Because it doesn’t feel like it!” (Year 5).

The children tended to anthropomorphise/ animate the robots, for example by denoting gender (male), attributing preferences: “I don’t think it likes the light” (Year 4), attributing emotion: “It hates it!” (Year 3) and attributing physical anthropomorphic/ animist characteristics: “Look you can see their eyes!” (Year 3). The children also often talk to the robots as if they were animals or small children: “Come on, come on…to me…Oooooo” (Year 6).

The children also tend to use violent terminology. These terms are frequently onomatopoeic, for example: “Bang!” (Year 3) and “Crash!” (Year 5). This terminology however tends to be related not to what the robots do to things, but what happens to the robots, for example, when they bump into things: “Make it crash into the light!” (Year 6).

The children admit to only a slight familiarity with robots.

The level of interest varies between the subject groups. The groups formed by years four and five show the most consistent high level of interest.


Within studies a and b as low a level of contamination from the researcher was achieved as possible. If a child asked for more information as to what was wanted (for either the story or picture) a response was given in question format: essentially asking them to say what they thought a robot was like. This tended to give the child sufficient encouragement to be able to continue. However, in study three this same low level of contamination was not achieved. Due to the lack of experience of the interviewer and the informal nature of the study there is a tendency for there to be implicit prompts for certain types of response.

The fact that all the assessments were performed by the same person means that there is likely to be some effect due to the influence of the researcher. In future experiments, the influence due to the researcher could be reduced by using a larger number of subject groups and by using several researchers.

For studies a and b it would have been ideal for the children to be able to sit at individual tables so that they did not contaminate each other: however, the facilities available required that they sat in two groups of five/ four. This meant that they could see what each other were drawing/ writing. Although every attempt was made to ensure they did not talk to each other there was some level of discussion as to what they were doing (this was highly variable between groups). However, in order to retain some level of consistency between studies one and two it should be noted that the children sat at the same tables for sessions a and b.

Study c was intentionally performed in a group environment: this appeared to give the children more confidence in expressing ideas and also allowed quite complex series of ideas to develop. However, it did have the disadvantage of confusing who had had which idea (also some of the

shyer children said very little). It also added difficulties in transcripting the session: especially where the children tend to all speak simultaneously.

It is also seriously disadvantageous that the assessments could not be performed in one block of time and with all age groups within the school at once. The separation of assessments increases the chance of contamination between subjects (and from outside influences of friends, family etc.). This may have been a particular problem because the assessment sample held some siblings who were in different school year groups (and thus in separate assessment groups).

The size of the sample group caused some problems with being able to perform statistical analysis: this may be avoided by using a larger sample (however, it may be found that due to the individual nature of social relationships, the influence of social and cultural factors, and individual experiences a larger sample size may not actually aid analysis). It is also necessary to recognise that the sample used was highly biased (due to it being an opportunity sample). This bias could be reduced by performing the assessment across a wider variety of socio-economic and cultural categories.


In accordance with hypothesis one it was found that the children tended to show the robots in social settings and/ or that the robots acting in social ways (in study b): for example placing the robots in a school or family situation. In accordance with hypothesis two it was found that children tended to treat the robots in a social manner during study c: for example, some of the children talked to the robots as one would normally do to a pet. It was also found that the children offered technological, non-social, explanations for behaviour. This may be a side effect of fluctuating levels of believability (this is considered at a later point). In accordance with hypothesis three it was found that the children tend to show the robots in situations, or with people, or fulfilling tasks, with which the children are themselves familiar (in study b):

for example, having a robot which played football.

These results suggest that children tend to place the robots in reasonably positive schemas which are not explicitly related to robotics. This is a trend which should be encouraged. It may also be possible in the future to use these already existing schema to try and create schema specifically related to robots. It should also be considered that placing robots in social situations may be a genuine trend with regards to robots: this is clearly very positive as it suggests that children may perceive robots as integratable into human social society.

Hypothesis four suggests that the children will anthropomorphise/ animate the robots. It was found in all three studies that the children did indeed do this. In the case of the drawings this was achieved by the use of humanoid faces and, interestingly, feet. In the stories anthropomorphisation/ animation was achieved placing the robots is social situations, by the allocation of emotion and of preferences, and by allocation of gender.

Hypothesis five suggests that the children will tend to anthropomorphise/ animate the robots during study c even though there are no explicit cues to prompt this response. It was found that the children did tend to anthropomorphise/ animate the robots. This was achieved in similar manners to the drawings and stories, for example, by attributing gender, preferences and emotion. The children tend to attribute anthropomorphic descriptions to technological features (for example, referring to the bumper as a smile or mouth). The children also talked to the robots (even though there is no apparent communication mechanism). The tone and content of the

children’s speech to the robots is one usually associated with how people talk to pets or small children.

It was found that both the personalities (in accordance with hypothesis 6) and ages of the children affected their interactions with the robots in study c. This evidence is purely from observation: if further research were to be pursued it would be useful to perform personality tests on the children and also to assess what types of personalities the robots may (or may not) represent. In each group there were several children who were very enthusiastic about interacting with the robots, asked lots of questions and made a lot of suggestions about the robots (these children probably have high dominance levels). There were also others who said very little (although they often still seemed to have a reasonable level of interest). As well as considering individual personalities it may also be valuable to consider the group dynamics of the subject groups before beginning testing. The children in years four and five seemed to be the most engaged with the robots (find them most believable). This is perhaps an effect of their ages. The children from year six seemed to find the technology too low level and therefore only sporadically interesting: as one of the members of staff at the school commented “What’s a reaction to light compared to the Nintendo type games that they play?”. In the case of the children from year 3 it seemed more a case of them being too young (and also that in this group of subjects there were several slightly disruptive, attention seeking children). The time slots that the teachers in year three allocated to the researcher tended to be first thing in the morning or during the last lesson. This meant that the children either had very high levels of energy (in the morning) and therefore found it difficult to sit still and concentrate, or were very tired (during the last lesson) and had very low levels of concentration and interest (this therefore affected all three studies with year 3).

This variation of interest between the subject groups can also be interpreted in terms of believability (question 1): the level of engagement in the subjects from years four and five suggests that they found the robots more believable than those from years three and six. It was also observed that levels of engagement varied throughout the study with each year group. For example, it tended to go down if the robots showed some maintenance fault or if a program was being downloaded, but tended to go up if the robots were performing an interesting behaviour or the children were able to interact with the robot (even if only one child was interacting at a time). This suggests that the interruptions that were required by technology had a severe effect on the levels of believability.

It was found that the robots tended not to be portrayed as violent (reference question 2). In both studies a and b it was found that few children portrayed the robots as violent (for example, drawing them carrying robots, writing about a robot soldier). However, what was interesting was that almost all the children who portrayed the robots as violent were male. This suggests that exhibition of violent characteristics is a trait of subject gender rather than a trait of robots in general. In study c it was found that the children often used violent terminology in reference to the robots. However, this tended to centre, not around the robots themselves being violent, but what happened to the robots (for example, when they bumped into things or each other). This suggests that the robots are not themselves viewed as intrinsically violent but that it is a natural way for the children to respond to such situations.

In study a the children rarely attribute gender to the robots (reference question 3). This can perhaps be explained by the lack of cues, in the drawings, which children would tend to use to attribute gender (such as clothes and hair). In studies b and c it was found that the children tended to attribute gender (rather than the robot being neuter) (reference question 3). What is

interesting is that not only do the children tend to allocate gender to the robots, when they do attribute gender, the gender choice tends to be male (reference question 4). This suggests that robots are considered generally to be a male entity. However, it may also be due to a general tendency for males to be more salient (and thus more likely to appear in a story). This could be countered by conducting a control test where children simply write about the person: this would allow the salience of males to be measured and thus taken into account when considering the stories about robots. Another possible explanation for this allocation of male gender is that technology is viewed as a predominantly male domain. In other words the robots are given male gender, not because they are robots, but because they are technological. Although this attributes a different cause to the allocation of gender, it can be seen that the effect is essentially the same (this is only an acceptable attitude because robots will never be anything but technological, by definition). It may also be important to consider whether robots in fiction tend to be portrayed as male as this may also influence the gender allocation (this would require investigating how large an effect fiction has on the children’s perception of robots and a study into the predominance of male protagonists in fiction).

This allocation of specific gender is of obvious importance due to the stereotypes which are associated with specific genders.

It was also found that other characteristics became apparent from the stories and drawings which were not considered in the hypotheses. Firstly, it was found that the children tended to base their drawings on geometric (usually trapezia) shapes. This is clearly in conflict with how children would tend to draw people (usually with much rounder shapes, particularly for the head). This therefore suggests that this is a form related specifically to robots. Secondly, it was found in the stories that the robots showed characteristics of free will. The children also attributed free will to the robots in study c: this was particularly surprising as they watched the program which controlled the robots being downloaded from the computer to the robots. This is particularly significant as it removes control of the robots away from people. Currently it is considered that one of the most elementary requirements for an agent/ robot is that humans retain control, or at least the feeling of control, over the agent/ robot. This research suggests that control may not need to be such a driving force in design, if the design its self supports high level interaction. However, it should also be noted that the robots in these stories in no way compare to the robots of today and as such offer a slightly futuristic approach to design.

It can be suggested, in accordance with question five, that the children do develop a stereotype of a robot in their drawings: the robot form will tend to be based on geometric shapes and it will tend to have a humanoid face and feet. There is less to form a certain stereotype of a robot in the stories than there was in the drawings. However, it would seem that the children tend to create a social, non-violent, male robot who has some evidence of free will.


The aim of this research was to identify how people may perceive robots and what types of behaviour they might exhibit when interacting with robots. A literature survey was conducted which considered research into human interactions as well as human-agent interactions. This survey identified a variety of factors which may/ do affect human-agent interaction.

The practical studies in this research supported many of the findings in HCI and Autonomous Agent research which show that concepts and attitudes which we use with other humans can also be applied to agents, computers and, we now suggest, robots.

In the future it will become increasingly important to consider how people will interact with and perceive robots when designing such technology. Preliminary findings as to attitudes, stereotypes and tendencies can be exploited so that appropriate and beneficial properties can be incorporated into design so as to most enable the user.

So far robots have mainly been associated with factory environments (robots as machines) or fictional robot characters (robots as alien species). Generally, such visions focus on confrontation rather than social integration of robots in human society, e.g. they describe robots developing their own minds and means of communication which humans cannot participate in and eventually might loose control of. However, robotic tools can be built so that design, behaviour and social skills of robots are adapted to the cognitive and social needs of humans, in this way allowing more human type interactions between humans and robots. Moreover, social control can replace conventional, instructional means of controlling machines. A first step, presented in this paper with an initial study, is to find out about already existing human attitudes towards robots. Further research has to expand this study, and build a body of research into Human Robot Interaction (HRI) based on a Cognitive Technology viewpoint of relationships between humans and technology.


The authors offer their sincere thanks to St. Margarets Junior School, Durham City, UK for their help with this study. Particular thanks is offered to the staff who allowed the children to be excused from lessons, the parents who gave their consent for the testing and above all to the children who showed such enthusiasm.


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