Science and Technology

Técnico researchers study the effects of children being excluded by robots

A study on social exclusion involving children and robots earned a research team from Técnico an honourable mention at one of the most important conferences in the sector.

A team of researchers from Instituto Superior Técnico presented a study with children aged between five and ten to observe how they would react to seeing other children being excluded by robots during a collaborative game. The results were presented at the HRI (Human-Robot Interaction) Conference. The method used by the researchers from the Interactive Technologies Institute and the Instituto de Engenharia de Sistemas e Computadores – Investigação e Desenvolvimento (INESC-ID), in collaboration with the Reichman University (Israel), allowed “to understand how children react when they observe exclusion in a controlled experimental environment”, according to the lead researcher Filipa Correia.

In the study, the interaction between children and robots was filmed and shown to other children. “The results indicate that the children who observed exclusion reported lower levels of belonging and control than those who observed inclusion”, as stated by Filipa Correia. In addition, they showed more pro-social behaviours towards another child than those who witnessed inclusion, suggesting a search for acceptance and the strengthening of bonds after experiencing exclusion.

Despite the adverse effects, the children surprisingly wanted to play with the same robots after the study. The study also raises important ethical considerations about the production and use of social robots in environments with children. The team emphasises the need for responsible practices in developing child-friendly robotic technologies. “If Siri were accidentally able to understand a group of children except one, even if this wasn’t an intentional feature, the child might feel excluded, which could change their feelings and actions towards other children and adults”, shares Filipa Correia. This awareness could guide policymakers, designers and educators, ensuring robots’ safe and beneficial integration into educational and social contexts.