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March 16, 2005

Charity Begins with Big Watching Robotic Eyeballs

Neuroeconomics is really fun!

Kismet the Robot

Boing Boing reports:

Boing Boing: Humans are generous if watched, even by photo of robot: Last week, I posted about a scientific study demonstrating that monkeys think about whether they'll be seen before they swipe food that's not theirs. Similarly, humans donate more to charity if they're being watched. And oddly, this is true even if the gaze is coming from a photo of an anthropomorphic robot. Researchers at Harvard University tested the altruism of 96 volunteers with a game involving the donation of money. From New Scientist:

The researchers split the group into two. Half made their choices undisturbed at a computer screen, while the others were faced with a photo of Kismet - ostensibly not part of the experiment. The players who gazed at the cute robot gave 30 per cent more to the pot than the others. (Investigators Terry) Burnham and (Brian) Hare believe that at some subconscious level they were aware of being watched. Being seen to be generous might mean an increased chance of receiving gifts in future or less chance of punishment...

Burnham believes that even though the parts of our brain that carry out decision-making know that the robot image is just that, Kismet's eyes trigger something more deep-seated. We can manipulate altruistic behaviour with a pair of fake eyeballs because ancient parts of our brain fail to recognise them as fake, he says.

Posted by DeLong at March 16, 2005 06:45 PM