HomeEnglish NewsTop News StoriesRobots Can Contribute to Employee Well-being, But How They Look Matters

Robots Can Contribute to Employee Well-being, But How They Look Matters

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Last Updated: March 17, 2023, 08:18 IST

Toy-like robots look much simpler than machines with a humanoid form, possibly making them easier to talk to and connect with. (Credits: AFP)

Researchers from Cambridge University suggest that robots could play a role in helping them to improve mental well-being at work.

The Covid pandemic has magnified the importance of employee well-being, whether in the office or working from home. This is a concern that human resources managers are taking more and more seriously. Now, researchers from Cambridge University suggest that robots could play a role in helping them to improve mental well-being at work. The Cambridge research team conducted an experiment at a technology consulting firm. They asked 26 employees to participate in weekly wellness sessions led by robots for four weeks. All of these robot “coaches” had identical voices, facial expressions and scripts to conduct these sessions. “We interviewed different well-being coaches, and then we programmed our robots to have a coach-like personality, with high openness and conscientiousness,” explains Minja Axelsson, a PhD student in computer science at the University of Cambridge, and co-author of the study, quoted in a news release.

However, the scientists found that study participants interacted differently with the robot in relation to its physical appearance. In fact, people who did well-being sessions with a toy-like robot reported feeling closer to their “coach” than those who worked with a humanoid-looking device.

This difference in perception could be explained, in part, by the extremely varied representations of robots in all areas of pop culture, and especially in the movies. Some, like WALL-W, R2-D2 and Astro, are portrayed as good and helpful, while others are depicted as being much more threatening to humans.

Different appearances, different expectations

But the Cambridge University researchers also suggest that we may unconsciously project expectations onto robots based on their physical appearance. Toy-like robots look much simpler and easier to connect with than humanoid machines, possibly because this leads to lower expectations. Meanwhile, humanoid robots are so realistic that they give the illusion of being autonomous subjects, capable of carrying out a conversation with anyone, which can lead to disappointment. “We programmed the robots with a script, but participants were hoping there would be more interactivity. It’s incredibly difficult to create a robot that’s capable of natural conversation. New developments in large language models could really be beneficial in this respect,” said Hatice Gunes, professor of emotional intelligence and robotics at the University of Cambridge, and lead author of the study, speaking in a statement.

Nevertheless, the study participants were generally satisfied with their robot-led coaching sessions and affirmed that they were open to the idea of trying the experience again in the future. These are valuable lessons for companies, at a time when mental and physical well-being has become a criterion of choice for job applicants.

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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)

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