Autonomous Movement Predicts Children’s Moral Regard and Prosocial Behavior Towards a Social Robot Dog

Nadia ChernyakCornell University
Heather GaryUniversity of Washington - Seattle

Abstract

Young children are remarkably prosocial towards humans. However, it is less clear what drives children’s prosociality towards non-human others. Here we explore the possibility that children’s moral regard stems from their understanding of others as autonomous beings. To investigate this possibility, we asked five and seven-year-old children to interact with a robot dog that appeared to be either moving autonomously (displaying self-generated movement), or appeared remote-controlled by the experimenter. Compared with controlled robot, the autonomous robot caused children to ascribe higher emotional and physical sentience to the robot, to reference the robot as having desires and physiological states, and to reference moral concerns as applying to the robot. Children who owned a dog at home were also more likely to behave prosocially towards the autonomous robot. Results imply a potential role of technology on children’s developing social cognition and prosocial behavior.

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