The Study: Preschoolers’ Preferences
The Morphology of the Robot
Children’s Perception of Robots
Children’s Learning Preferences
A recent study conducted by Concordia researchers and published in the Journal of Cognition and Development explored who preschoolers prefer to learn from. Previous research has shown that infants can identify the best informant, but what about preschool-aged children? The results of the study indicate that the preference largely depends on the child’s age.
In the experiment, two groups of preschoolers, one consisting of three-year-olds and the other of five-year-olds, participated in Zoom meetings. During these meetings, a video of a young woman and a small robot named Nao with humanoid characteristics were shown side by side. The robot and human discussed familiar objects, with the robot providing correct labels and the human offering incorrect labels, such as referring to a car as a book. This helped determine if the children would prefer learning from a competent robot or an incompetent human.
Afterward, the children were presented with unfamiliar objects and both the robot and human used nonsense terms to label them. The researchers then asked the children which label they preferred. The study found that while the three-year-olds showed no preference, the five-year-olds were more likely to endorse the label provided by the robot.
The researchers repeated the experiment using a different robot called Cozmo, shaped like a small truck. The results were similar, indicating that the morphology of the robot did not affect the children’s trust in its competence.
Additionally, the study included a task to evaluate the children’s understanding of biology. The results showed that the three-year-olds were confused, assigning both biological and mechanical internal parts to robots. However, the five-year-olds recognized that only mechanical parts belonged inside robots.
Why Children Prefer Robots
This research fills a significant gap in the existing literature on the benefits of using robots as teaching aides for children. While previous studies often included only one robot informant or compared two robots, this study aimed to examine if children prioritize social affiliation and similarity over competency when choosing whom to trust and learn from.
The researchers also built upon a previous study that revealed children treat robots as social agents. Despite understanding that robots have mechanical insides, older preschoolers still anthropomorphize them. They attribute human-like qualities to robots, including the ability to talk, think, and feel.
One of the researchers, Goldman, emphasizes that robots are valuable tools for studying how children learn from both human and non-human sources. As technology continues to play an increasing role in children’s lives, understanding the potential of technology as a learning facilitator becomes crucial.