Older adults worry robots will make kids lazy

Companion robots may need some kind of parental controls that will convince older adults that the devices won't make children lazy and dependent on them. (Credit: tiffany terry/Flickr)

Researchers asked 640 retirees over the age of 60 about whether robots would have negative effects on them and on others. About 53 percent were women and 47 percent were men.

For instance, they asked whether robots would make them lazier and encourage them to interact less often with other people. They then asked similar questions about the effects of robots on young people.

The retirees said that while they personally are not likely to become dependent on robots, they worry that young people will come to rely on them. They also said they would likely resist using robots, says T. Franklin Waddell, a doctoral candidate in mass communications at Penn State.

“We’ve seen this type of effect, which is usually referred to as a third-person effect, with different types of media, such as video games and television, but this is the first time we have seen the effect in robotics. According to a third person effect, a person says they are not as negatively affected by the media as other people.”

The researchers, who presented their findings at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, say the effect could eventually lead to changes in behavior. For instance, people who believe video games harm young people may tend to avoid the games. Likewise, older adults who believe that companion robots could harm young people may tend to avoid robots themselves.

Parental controls?

To compensate for the effect, robot designers may need to consider adding controls that will help adults monitor the use of robots by children, says Waddell, who worked with S. Shyam Sundar, professor of communications, and Eun Hwa Jung, a doctoral candidate in mass communications.


“Robot designers and developers look at older adults as a central user base for companion robots,” Waddell says. “This effect is something they should consider when designing the interface for the robots to make sure, for example, that the robot includes some type of parental controls.”

Robots with parental controls may convince adults that they can own and use robots and still protect children from their fears that the devices might lead to laziness and dependency.

The researchers studied two types of robots: companion robots and assistant robots, Sundar says. Assistant robots are devices that help with everyday tasks, such as vacuuming the floor or playing a CD. Companion robots are more interactive.

A robot to lean on

This interactivity may be one reason that users tend to attach human-like emotions to them, Waddell says.

“A companion robot provides the user with a source of friendship. They might watch TV with the participant, provide emotional support, or complete an activity with the user.”

Study participants don’t seem to have the same level of apprehensions with assistant robots, Waddell says.

The Korea Institute for Advancement of Technology supported the study.

Source: Penn State