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22 Feb, 2022 08:29

Humans getting too emotionally attached to robot coworkers – study

US and Korean researchers say an excessively strong bond between a human employee and a robot is bad for business
Humans getting too emotionally attached to robot coworkers – study

Situations where a human employee develops a strong emotional bond to their robot colleague could see the company’s overall “teamwork quality and performance” decline, a group of US and Korean researchers have warned.

A study penned by scientists from the University of Michigan and South Korea’s Sungkyunkwan University was published on February 10. It found that in cases where a worker is more attached to a robot, a kind of ‘us-versus-them’ mentality often emerges, with the human-machine pairing competing with the rest of the team instead of contributing positively to “team relationships and performance.

The introduction of robots into the workplace has so far been predominantly seen as a positive thing, while possible negative repercussions have largely been overlooked, researchers point out.

Lionel Robert, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, and Sangseok You, assistant professor of management information systems at Sungkyunkwan University, carried out a series of experiments to find out how excessive bonding between humans and robots affects a team’s overall performance.

One quantitative randomized lab study involving 88 workers saw them split into 44 teams, each made up of two humans and two robots. The teams were tasked with moving bottles from different points in a competition-like environment. After the experiment was over, the participants were asked how they assessed their performance and connection to their human and robot partners. It transpired that, when humans developed more of a bond with robots, the tiny teams of four (two humans plus two machines) were likely to further divide into subgroups, which understandably undermined the overall team “quality and performance.

The researchers also suggested a number of remedies which could help prevent such an undesirable process from developing within a company. The recommendations were based on the experiences of 112 respondents representing various industries where humans work alongside robots.

The bottom line is that special efforts should be made to improve communication among humans, or else they may end up getting attached to machines instead.

If these findings are anything to go by, such activities as joint picnics and sports events for employees are good ways of enhancing team spirit.