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Abstract

“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
SCIENCE ROBOTICS | FOCUS
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HUMAN-ROBOT INTERACTION
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: nicolas.spatola@uca.fr (N.S.); ludovic.ferrand@uca.fr (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).
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Spatola et al., Sci. Robot. 3, eaat5843 (2018) 15 August 2018
SCIENCE ROBOTICS | FOCUS
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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
condition.
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.
SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIALS
robotics.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/3/21/eaat5843/DC1
Methods
Results
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 https://osf.io/djgqh/.
10.1126/scirobotics.aat5843
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
ARTICLE TOOLS http://robotics.sciencemag.org/content/3/21/eaat5843
MATERIALS
SUPPLEMENTARY http://robotics.sciencemag.org/content/suppl/2018/08/13/3.21.eaat5843.DC1
REFERENCES http://robotics.sciencemag.org/content/3/21/eaat5843#BIBL
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... 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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