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“Bad” humanoid robots just paying attention to human performance may energize attentional control—as does human presence.
Spatola et al., Sci. Robot. 3, eaat5843 (2018) 15 August 2018
1 of 2
Not as bad as it seems: When the presence of
a threatening humanoid robot improves
human performance
Nicolas Spatola1*, Clément Belletier2, Alice Normand1, Pierre Chausse1, Sophie Monceau1,
Maria Augustinova3, Vincent Barra4, Pascal Huguet1†, Ludovic Ferrand1*
“Bad” humanoid robots just paying attention to human performance may energize attentional control—as does
human presence.
Millions of people worldwide may soon bene-
fit from the presence of humanoid robots
designed to ensure support to the elderly,
disabled people, or pupils with learning dif-
ficulties (1). Despite this accelerating trend,
little is known about the emotional experi-
ence associated with human-robot interaction
(HRI) and its impact on human cognition.
Because this is a critical issue for the intro-
duction of humanoid robots in our societies
(2), we examined whether (i) socially interac-
tive humanoid robots affect attentional con-
trol (i.e., the paramount cognitive ability) and
(ii) this impact depends on the emotional
valence associated with HRI. To do so, we
used the gold standard of attentional mea-
sures, the Stroop task (3), requiring individ-
uals to identify the color in which a word is
printed, ignoring the word itself. Because
of the automaticity of reading, identifica-
tion times are consistently longer for color-
incongruent words (the word “BLUE” in
green ink) than for color-neutral items (“D ESK ”
in green ink). The amplitude of this well-
known effect, called “Stroop interference,” in-
dicates the efficiency of cognitive-attentional
control. It typically decreases under stress (4),
especially in the presence of others competing
with—or simply paying attention to—our cur-
rent performance (57). However, whether
and when the presence of social humanoid
robots also boosts attentional control re-
mains unanswered. We predicted that the
presence of robots simply paying attention to
human performance may energize attentional
control—as human presence does—especially
when these robots are thought to be likely to
produce negative evaluations (8).
To test this hypothesis, we asked young
adults to perform the standard Stroop task twice.
In session 1, all participants performed the
task alone. In session 2, they performed the
task either alone or in the presence of a hu-
manoid robot with which they had previ-
ously interacted either positively (a “good”
robot responding in a nice way, with empa-
thy) or negatively (a “bad” robot respond-
ing with contempt, lack of empathy, and
negative evaluations about participants’ in-
telligence) (see the Supplementary Material s).
In the two robotic presence conditions, the
robot was animated at a distance by using two
smartphones for the control of its gestures
1Université Clermont Auvergne, CNRS, LAPSCO, F-63000 Clermont-Ferrand, France. 2Laboratoire Psychologie
du Développement Cognitif, Université de Fribourg, Switzerland. 3Normandie Université, UNIROUEN, CRFDP,
F-76000 Rouen, France. 4Université Clermont Auvergne, CNRS, LIMOS, F-63000 Clermont-Ferrand, France.
*Corresponding author. Email: (N.S.); (L.F.)
†These authors contributed equally to this work.
Copyright © 2018
The Authors, some
rights reserved;
exclusive licensee
American Association
for the Advancement
of Science. No claim
to original U.S.
Government Works
Fig. 1. Experimental setup and participant performance. (A) We used a MeccanoidG15KS animated at a distance by a human operator using two smartphones
to control the robot’s gestures and speech. In the two presence conditions, the robot was positioned in front of participants (to their right on the edge of their periph-
eral vision) and watched them 60% of the time by turning the head according to a pre-established script. (B) The main effect of condition on Stroop performance improve-
ment (error bars represent 1 SE) indicates that the positive interaction condition did not differ from the control condition, whereas the negative HRI condition differed
from the positive HRI and control conditions averaged (see the Supplementary Materials for detailed statistical analyses).
by guest on December 9, 2018 from
Spatola et al., Sci. Robot. 3, eaat5843 (2018) 15 August 2018
2 of 2
and speech based o n a strictly identical script
(e.g., head movement toward the participant
60% of the time, light arm movements)
(Fig.1A). At the end of session 2, participants
in the two robotic conditions rated the ro-
bot present on various personality traits (see
the Supplementary Materials), either pos-
itive (e.g., warm, competent) or negative
(awkward, aggressive).
Not surprisingly, the bad robot was rated as
less warm, friendly, and pleasant than the good
robot. Participants also attributed fewer hu-
man nature traits (e.g., “cognitive openness”)
and more mechanical dehumanization traits
(e.g., “rigidity”) to the bad robot compared
with the good robot (see the Supplementary
Materials). More importantly, individuals’
attentional control improved notably in the
presence of the bad robot. Planned compari-
sons were used to analyze relevant between-
group contrasts (alone versus pleasant robot;
alone and pleasant social robot averaged
versus unpleasant social robot) on Stroop
interference [response times (RTs) for color-
incongruent words minus RTs for color-
neutral items] at session 2 minus interference
at session 1 (baseline). A positive value (see
Fig.1B) means reduced interference (improved
performance) at session 2 relative to baseline.
As expected, Stroop performance improved
exclusively in the presence of the unpleasant
robot. This condition differed from the two
other conditions averaged (alone and pleasant
social robot), which did not differ from one
another (see the Supplementary Materials for
detailed statistical analyses).
These findings run counter to a purely
mechanistic approach that reduces the ef-
fects of robotic presence to physical action
or noise distraction, which may facilitate or
inhibit performance depending on task dif-
ficulty (9). According to this approach, both
robotic presence conditions—regardless of
their emotional tone (positive or negative)—
should have resulted in a performance change
compared with isolation (all the more so be-
cause the robot’s appearance and behavior
during task performance were identical in
both conditions). Instead, Stroop performance
changed exclusively in the bad social robot
Perhaps even more striking, the bad so-
cial robot had the same impact on Stroop per-
formance as in earlier research with human
presence (57). This presence reduced, rather
than increased, Stroop interference, which
extends the relevance of the attentional view
of social facilitation from humans to social
robots. According to this view (5, 6), the pres-
ence of potentially threatening others im-
proves the selectivity of attention to relevant
information at the expense of competing cues
(in the Stroop task, the color in which a word
is printed at the expense of the word itself).
This is what happened in the bad social robot
condition. Therefore, not only can the be-
havior of robots change humans’ perception
of robots during HRI (10), but these attribu-
tions are susceptible to making the simple
pre sence of robots likely to affect human
cognition as a function of the interaction
type. Thus, the present findings constitute
evidence that the presence of social robots may
energize attentional control, especially when
the emotional valence and anthropomorphic
inferences associated with the robot being
present require a heightened state of alertness.
Fig. S1. The experimental installation.
Table S1. Verbal exchange script.
Table S2. Mean correct response times (in milliseconds), SDs
(in parentheses), and error rates as a function of the type of
stimuli, session, and group.
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Acknowledgments: This study was carried out in
accordance with the provisions of the World Medical
Association Declaration of Helsinki. Funding: This work
was supported by a grant (Social_Robot_2017-2018) from
the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Clermont-Ferrand,
France. Data and materials availability: All data are
publicly available via the Open Science Framework and can
be accessed at
Citation: N. Spatola, C. Belletier, A. Normand, P. Chausse,
S. Monceau, M. Augustinova, V. Barra, P. Huguet, L. Ferrand,
Not as bad as it seems: When the presence of a threatening
humanoid robot improves human performance. Sci. Robot. 3,
eaat5843 (2018).
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human performance
Not as bad as it seems: When the presence of a threatening humanoid robot improves
Barra, Pascal Huguet and Ludovic Ferrand
Nicolas Spatola, Clément Belletier, Alice Normand, Pierre Chausse, Sophie Monceau, Maria Augustinova, Vincent
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aat5843
, eaat5843.3Sci. Robotics
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... Robots' anthropomorphism is not anecdotal as it entails not only how humans consider robots (Darling, 2017;Eyssel & Kuchenbrandt, 2012;Kuchenbrandt et al., 2013;Spatola et al., 2019a) but also how robots impact humans own cognition and behaviours (Riether et al., 2012;Spatola et al., 2018aSpatola et al., , 2019a. In this paper, we propose to investigate how cognitive control mechanisms influence robots' anthropomorphism. ...
... Finally, they completed a questionnaire adapted from Haslam dehumanization taxonomy (Haslam, 2006;Spatola et al., 2018aSpatola et al., , 2019a and the Robotic Social Attribute Scale (RoSAS) (Carpinella et al., 2017). We used these questionnaires as a measure of the conceptual distance between participants and robots and anthropomorphic attributions respectively. ...
... Fifth, we agree that other factors that we did not investigate in present study, such as the human-like appearance (Nyangoma et al., 2017;Salem et al., 2013), the motor resonance process (Chaminade et al., 2010(Chaminade et al., , 2012, the social context (Spatola et al., 2018a(Spatola et al., , 2019a, the observer's knowledge about robots (Epley et al., 2007(Epley et al., , 2008Waytz et al., 2010), could reinforce or interfere with the control of the social vs physical information weight. In other words, the more the context provides social information or triggers social processing, the more it is difficult for the cognitive control to inhibit the default social cognition path. ...
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Humanoid robots are predicted to be increasingly present in the everyday life of millions of people worldwide. Humans make sense these artificial agents’ actions mainly through the attribution of human characteristics, a process called anthropomorphism. However, despite a large number of studies, how the representation of artificial agents is constructed remains an open question. Here, we aim at integrating the process of anthropomorphism into the cognitive control theory, that postulates that we adapt resources management for information processing according to the current situation. In three experiments, we manipulated the cognitive load of participants while being observed by a humanoid robot to investigate how it could impact the online adaptation of the mental representation of the robot. The first two experiments indicated an online control of demanding resources in order to switch from an intentional to a physical representation, therefore inhibiting anthropomorphic, i.e. social, inferences. The third experiment investigated how the goals of the observing robot, i.e. “what” versus “why” is the robot observing, influences the effect of the cognitive load, showing that an explicit focus on its intentionality automatically biases cognitive processes towards anthropomorphism, yielding insights on how we mentally represent interacting robots when cognitive control theory and robots’ anthropomorphism are considered together.
... Authors hypothesized this could be due to distraction caused by the social robot or by a higher cognitive load induced by the social interaction. Furthermore, [50] found that in a perceptual load search task, humanlike or anthropomorphic faces distracted participants in their task and in [51] the authors showed that a threatening humanoid robot, but not a social one, increased the level of participants' attention during the Stroop task. From these studies, it seems therefore that the sociality of the robot might constitute a distracting factor in diverse domains. ...
... Comparing the present study with related research on this issue, it is worth noticing at least three elements: the role of the robot, the cognitive load of the task and the demographics of participants. Specifically, in the present experiment, the perceptual task was designed to be intrinsically interactive so that the robot was not only present in the scene as a distractor [50], or a tutor/instructor [51], but it rather had the role of stimuli demonstrator for participants. This could explain the reason why the robot did not constitute a distraction for participants. ...
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... Huguet et al., 2014). In line with this latter hypothesis, there is evidence showing that conflict effects, such as the Stroop effect, are reduced in the presence of another human or a humanoid agent (Huguet et al.,1999;Spatola et al., 2018; see Belletier et al 2019 for a review). ...
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Accurately measuring perceptions of robots has become increasingly important as technological progress permits more frequent and extensive interaction between people and robots. Across four studies, we develop and validate a scale to measure social perception of robots. Drawing from the Godspeed Scale and from the psychological literature on social perception, we develop an 18-item scale (The Robotic Social Attribute Scale; RoSAS) to measure people's judgments of the social attributes of robots. Factor analyses reveal three underlying scale dimensions-warmth, competence, and discomfort. We then validate the RoSAS and show that the discomfort dimension does not reflect a concern with unfamiliarity. Using images of robots that systematically vary in their machineness and gender-typicality, we show that the application of these social attributes to robots varies based on their appearance.
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This paper discusses the issues pertinent to the development of a meaningful social interaction between robots and people through employing degrees of anthropomorphism in a robot’s physical design and behaviour. As robots enter our social space, we will inherently project/impose our interpretation on their actions similar to the techniques we employ in rationalising, for example, a pet’s behaviour. This propensity to anthropomorphise is not seen as a hindrance to social robot development, but rather a useful mechanism that requires judicious examination and employment in social robot research.
Social (interactive) robots are a frontier research area in robotics and human-computer interaction. This book summarizes the research of the ATR Intelligent Robotics Laboratory on the ROBOVIE project, a series of robots designed to interact with the elderly and disabled on a daily basis. This laboratory is one of the world's leaders in Humanoid Interactive Robotics. The text covers interdisciplinary topics related to interactive robots, including human behavior recognition and behavior based control. It also presents the results of long-term usability studies and discusses the implementation of robots that interact with sensors and users over a telecommunications network.
Several studies have shown that mere social presence reduces Stroop interference but processes underlying such effect are still poorly understood. Given that the standard Stroop task used in those studies confounds semantic and response competition, it remains unclear whether Stroop words are processed normally (Sharma, Booth, Brown, & Huguet, 2010) or whether the processing of their semantic representations is altered (Huguet, Galvaing, Monteil, & Dumas, 1999, Exp. 1). The direct evidence from the semantically-based Stroop task (i.e., a task that is free of response competition and thus isolates the semantic component of the Stroop interference, Neely & Kahan, 2001) provided in this paper attests normal semantic processing. Such result refutes the idea that semantic activation can be prevented or controlled by social presence and thus adds to the growing body of evidence showing that semantic activation is indeed automatic. Also importantly, this paper offers an alternative explanation of past findings, which holds that social presence simply reduces the response competition that occurs in the standard Stroop task and sheds some light on the processes that underlie social-facilitating effects of mere presence in the Stroop task.
We review early and recent psychological theories of dehumanization and survey the burgeoning empirical literature, focusing on six fundamental questions. First, we examine how people are dehumanized, exploring the range of ways in which perceptions of lesser humanness have been conceptualized and demonstrated. Second, we review who is dehumanized, examining the social targets that have been shown to be denied humanness and commonalities among them. Third, we investigate who dehumanizes, notably the personality, ideological, and other individual differences that increase the propensity to see others as less than human. Fourth, we explore when people dehumanize, focusing on transient situational and motivational factors that promote dehumanizing perceptions. Fifth, we examine the consequences of dehumanization, emphasizing its implications for prosocial and antisocial behavior and for moral judgment. Finally, we ask what can be done to reduce dehumanization. We conclude with a discussion of limitations of current scholarship and directions for future research. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Psychology Volume 65 is January 03, 2014. Please see for revised estimates.
A practical methodology is presented for creating closeness in an experimental context. Whether or not an individual is in a relationship, particular pairings of individuals in the relationship, and circumstances of relationship development become manipulated variables. Over a 45-min period subject pairs carry out self-disclosure and relationship-building tasks that gradually escalate in intensity. Study 1 found greater postinteraction closeness with these tasks versus comparable small-talk tasks. Studies 2 and 3 found no significant closeness effects, inspite of adequate power, for (a) whether pairs were matched for nondisagreement on important attitudes, (b) whether pairs were led to expect mutual liking, or (c) whether getting close was made an explicit goal. These studies also illustrated applications for addressing theoretical issues, yielding provocative tentative findings relating to attachment style and introversion/extraversion.
This chapter discusses the progress and problems of distraction–conflict theory. Distraction–conflict theory suggests that attentional conflict might be the key mediator of drive in research settings. This chapter reviews the research and argues that—despite a good deal of corroborating data for some of the major contentions of distraction–conflict theory—attentional mechanisms may offer a more parsimonious account of social facilitation phenomena than does a drive perspective. Distraction–conflict theory can account post hoc for the findings that indicate that evaluative or competitive pressure heightens social facilitation or impairment; mere presence occasionally produces social facilitation in the absence of evaluative or competitive pressure; social loafing can occur on simple well-learned tasks; and hidden audiences produce social facilitation. The attentional emphasis suggests that distraction may have a variety of effects on cognition, attitude change, and social behavior.