Monday, April 18, 2011

Human-like robots

Great article in the April Wired magazine. They report on a study (full PDF available) by some Stanford researchers who found that people who are operating human-like robots attribute the behavior to the robot a lot more than people who operate non-human-like robots, who see the robot as extensions of themselves.

This may sound esoteric, but it has lots of important implications. People remotely operating military robots that are human-like might become overly violent because they can attribute the behavior to the robot (rather than themselves). On the other hand, it might be useful to use human-like robots for search and rescue to minimize the amount of traumatic stress felt by the operator (because they can dissociate themselves from the work). Our brains are often fooling us by anthropomorphizing objects. It would be nice if we can learn from it and take advantage when appropriate.

Customers who self-identify with your business

Another great study, this one in the latest issue of the Journal of Consumer Research. They found that when people have a falling out with a company that they use regularly because it has good prices or good products, they get angry and take their business elsewhere (obviously).

BUT, when they have a falling out with a company with which they self-identify (which marketers usually love because it generates lots of loyalty), they don’t just get angry, they also feel shame and guilt and embarrassment. So they are much more likely to do something vengeful. Self-identifying brands are ones like Whole Foods, Patagonia, or some other brand that shares your “values.”

If you are lucky, they will just throw away or break the products they have of yours. But in some cases they can be much more public in their retaliation. With social networks, the scope of the bad publicity can be much bigger than it used to. (Former) customers might rant and rave about how bad you are to all their Facebook contacts.

They found that these falling outs don’t have to be based on some kind of incident like bad customer service. Even if they just slowly get tired of the company over time, they may retaliate. The authors recommend that in these cases, you may be better off promoting a smooth disengagement rather than trying to win them back, which could just be more emotional. Send them a coupon for a similar product by another company. Sounds counter-intuitive, but it may be a way to limit the damage.

Subliminally activating trust

Fascinating study (full PDF available) in a recent issue of the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes from some researchers at Kellogg (the B-school, not the cereal). They subliminally showed participants photos of people that they either trusted or distrusted, liked or disliked. Then, they had them play the Trust Game with a stranger. After the liked and/or trusted photos, even though it was subliminal, the participants exhibited more trusting behavior toward the stranger. But they didn’t consciously rate the stranger as more trustworthy. It was totally unconscious.

When the subliminal priming was someone they trusted, the participants expected more reciprocity from the stranger. But when the subliminal priming was someone they liked, they exhibited more trusting behavior themselves but didn’t expect it in return. They were just unconsciously more generous.

They tried it with inanimate objects that the participants liked, but found no effect. There was also no difference between the disliked or distrusted priming and a neutral control condition. So we can subliminally prime people to trust, but not to distrust.

The authors speculate that companies can put photos or art of people that are trusted (Abe Lincoln maybe) on the walls when they want to encourage trust. Like in a conference room where you will be negotiating with outside people who aren’t aware of the practice. Sneaky!!