PsychEng Seminar 2022 Oct 25: Prof. Jason Plaks, U of T Department of Psychology

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Room 2135, Bahen Centre
40 St. George Street

Speaker: Prof. Jason Plaks, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto

Title: When and Why Do People Ascribe Moral Responsibility to Robots?


What increases – and decreases – the likelihood of attributing moral features to robots? In contrast to research that has focused on robots’ physical features and gestures, our work has begun to examine – and manipulate – psychological features. In one study, participants played a Prisoner’s Dilemma game against a robotic or human counterpart. The counterpart was randomly varied to display high versus low levels of four theoretically derived dimensions of humanness: Values, Autonomy, Social Connection, and Self-Aware Emotions. Varying the robotic counterpart’s commitment to Values from low to high increased participants’ likelihood of choosing the cooperative option. In contrast, varying the robot’s Self-Aware Emotions from low to high increased participants’ likelihood of choosing the competitive option. In another set of studies, participants read about a robot who committed an accidental harm. Participants judged the low Values robot more responsible than the high Values robot but judged the high Self-Aware Emotions robot more responsible than the low Self-Aware Emotions robot. These data suggest that imbuing a robot with a commitment to moral principles fosters higher moral trust, whereas imbuing a robot with a high level of emotional self-awareness fosters lower moral trust. This work represents a starting point for the development of a more comprehensive model of the psychology of human-robot interaction.


Jason Plaks (PhD Columbia University, 2001) studies the intersection of motivation and cognition with a special emphasis on moral cognition. He is a Fellow of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. He is an Associate Editor of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and is a consulting editor of the Journal of Personality and Psychology and the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. His laboratory has received funding from SSHRC, NSERC, and NSF.

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