Recently, I have conducted an interesting field study related to my master’s thesis, which was to find out the experience of new students with the social robot Pepper and the tasks they preferred to perform with Pepper. Pepper has been living with us for about a year now and had several emotional impact on us. However, this time we wanted to study what emotional and psychological impact this little guy leaves on the new students.
When Pepper was first taken to the field trial, I could observe different kind of emotions among the crowd. These emotions mostly engage non-verbal cues. For example, there were many new students where Pepper was located. Initially, they would stare at Pepper for a while and the next moment they would disconnect the eye contact. Some would just observe from a distance and smile. When they were asked if they want to interact with Pepper, they would hesitantly agree. These nonverbal cues reflect curiosity and anxiety. On the other hand, many excited participants approached Pepper saying, “Wow what a cool robot!” According to the lecture slide “Motivation and emotion”, emotions sometimes drive people to make decisions, which was clearly reflected in the field study. From the survey questionnaire, people were motivated to interact with Pepper because they were excited. However, some people declined to participate in the beginning, but they were motivated to participate when my fellow colleague said, “Please participate for science”. Moreover, some people waited to interact with Pepper because they study Robotics and AI and their motivation was to know what projects were going on related to their major studies. Therefore, according to lecture 6 “intrinsic motivation” drove most of the participants to participate in the study.
One more interesting psychological factor influenced the new students, which was peer pressure. De Graaf et.al  mentioned that technology acceptance depends on social factors when they are voluntary. Most of the students were with their tutor group and preferred to be in the group rather than interacting with Pepper. On the other hand, the whole group would wait if one person wanted to interact with Pepper. This seemed to be the undefined social norms, which the tutor group followed during their campus tour. Many interesting things happened during the interaction phase. Some interacted in groups and tried to ask funny questions to Pepper. Pepper would randomly ask participants to give them a hug and they would smile at it.
Social robots are new compared to other technologies and have not been seen commonly yet. Therefore, there is a wow-factor, which emotionally drives and motivates people to interact with it. Onchi et.al  talks about how a direction-showing robot is warmly accepted over a paper map. This is an indication that, people tend to accept interactive and new technologies. Also, in my study, participants would comment like “Screens are boring and robot is more interactive and personal”. One participant also said, “It is better to ask a robot because it will not judge me”. Overall it was a nice experience to understand the psychological needs and drives of the international students to interact with Pepper.
Written by Aparajita Chowhury
1. Onchi, E., Lucho, C., Sigüenza, M., Trovato, G., & Cuellar, F. (2016, November). Introducing IOmi-A Female Robot Hostess for Guidance in a University Environment. In International Conference on Social Robotics (pp. 764-773). Springer, Cham.
2. de Graaf, M. M. A., & Ben Allouch, S. (2013). Exploring influencing variables for the acceptance of social robots. Robotics and Autonomous Systems, 61(12), 1476-1486. doi:10.1016/j.robot.2013.07.00