A recent study published in Journal of Cognition and Development explores how the age of preschoolers influences their belief in robots as a source of information. The research was conducted by a team from Concordia University and found that while three-year-olds showed no preference, five-year-olds were more likely to trust robots as competent teachers.
Experiment Setup and Results
The study divided preschoolers into two groups, consisting of three-year-olds and five-year-olds. Participants attended a Zoom meeting that featured video of a young woman and a humanoid robot, Nao, sitting next to each other with various familiar objects. Robots label objects correctly, while humans intentionally label them incorrectly.
Later, children were presented with alien items and both robots and humans used nonsensical terms to label these objects. When asked what the objects were called, the three-year-olds showed no preference for robotic or human labels. However, five year olds were more likely to support the terms given by the robot.
Lead author Anna-Elisabeth Baumann, a PhD candidate, stated, “We can see that at the age of five, children choose to learn from a competent teacher rather than someone they are more familiar with — even if that competent teacher is a robot. ”
The research team also included Horizon Postdoctoral Fellow Elizabeth Goldman, undergraduate research assistant Alexandra Meltzer, and Professor Diane Poulin-Dubois from the Department of Psychology at Concordia University.
Truck-Shaped Robots and Naive Biological Tasks
The experiment was repeated with the new groups aged three and five, this time using a small, truck-shaped robot called Cozmo. The results are similar to those of the humanoid Nao, suggesting that the robot’s appearance does not influence children’s selective belief strategies.
The researchers also gave naïve biology assignments, asking children to identify whether biological organs or mechanical gears formed the insides of unfamiliar animals and robots. While three-year-olds looked unsure, five-year-olds more accurately identified that only mechanical parts were included in the robot.
Baumann explains, “This data tells us that kids will choose to learn from robots even though they know it’s not like them. They know that robots are mechanical.”
Implications for Education and Learning
The researchers note that while there is a large body of literature on the benefits of using robots as teaching aids for children, most of the research focuses on one informant robot or two robots in competition. Their study, on the other hand, compared human and robotic resources to determine whether children prioritized social affiliation and similarity over competence when choosing whom to trust and learn from.
Poulin-Dubois highlighted that their research builds on previous papers, showing that at the age of five, children treat robots in a similar way to adults. He said, “Older preschoolers know that robots have mechanical insides, but they still anthropomorphize. Like adults, these children attribute certain human-like qualities to robots, such as the ability to speak, think and feel.”
Elizabeth Goldman emphasized that robots should be considered as tools for studying how children learn from human and non-human agents. He concluded, “As the use of technology increases, and more and more children interact with technological devices, it is important that we understand how technology can become a tool to help facilitate their learning.”