Applied Sciences (Mar 2021)

Robot-Touch Promotes Memory Sensitization

  • Soheil Keshmiri

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 11, no. 5
p. 2271


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Research show that we are more skeptical of the machines than fellow humans. They also find that we are reluctant to change this perception in spite of the possibility for increased efficiency through cooperative engagement with them. However, these findings that primarily focused on algorithmic agents may not readily be attributable to the case of robots. To fill this gap, the present study investigated whether the background information about the level of autonomy of a robot would have any effect on its perception by individuals whom it made a physical contact with. For this purpose, we conducted an experiment in which a robot-arm touched the left arm of thirty young Japanese adults (fifteen females, age: 22 ± 1.64) in two trials. While the robot was autonomous in both trials, we told our participants that in one of their trials the robot was controlled by a human operator while in the other the robot moved autonomously. We observed that the previous findings on soft agents extended to the case of robots in that participants significantly preferred their trial that was supposedly operated by a human. More importantly, we identified a memory sensitization with respect to the trial-order in which participants preferred their first trial, regardless of whether it was a robot- or a supposedly human-controlled scenario. As a type of nondeclarative memory that contributes to nonassociative learning, the observed memory sensitization highlighted participants’ growing perceptual distance to the robot-touch that was primarily triggered by the unconscious learning-component of their physical contact with the robot. The present findings substantiate the necessity for more in-depth and socially situated study and analysis of these new generation of our tools to better comprehend the extent of their (dis)advantages to more effectively introduce them to our society.