Study shows that robots suffer from sexism

Robots of the future take note: Humans will stereotype you and assign you gender roles depending on how male or female you look. We know this because a new study conducted by German psychologists demonstrated that people will continue to apply their prejudices even to those objects that are completely devoid of actual sexual traits.

The study, which was conducted by Friederike Eyssel and Frank Hegel, took 60 students (equal parts men and women) and asked them to evaluate images of two new robots (what they called "modern technologies of the future") and have them consider the ways they might be used.

Writing in Pacific Standard, Tom Jacobs describes the rest:

They looked at the heads of the two human-like machines, which were identical except for two details. The "feminine" one had longer hair and a slight curvature of the lips; the "masculine" one had shorter hair and straight lips.

Participants then were given a list of 24 traits and asked the extent to which they felt the robot embodied each of them. Twelve were action-oriented, such as "assertive" and "dominant," while 12 represented communal values including "polite" and "affectionate."

Next, the students were asked to rate how likely they would be to use each of the robots for a list of possible duties including stereotypical male tasks like "guarding the house" and stereotypically female tasks such as preparing meals.

Once the results were in, the researchers discovered that the students assessed the short-haired robot as being more suitable for such tasks as "repairing technical devices" and "guarding a house," while the long-haired robot was deemed more appropriate for such tasks as household chores and caring for children and the elderly.

Jacobs describes the implications:

The researchers note their results could be used in two ways. From a social-policy point of view, it might be worthwhile for designers to develop "counter-stereotypical machines," which could challenge our rigid conceptions of "male" and "female" work.

On the other hand, they note, if the goal is "to facilitate human-robot interaction" and minimize mistakes and accidents, it makes sense to design robots that conform to our human assumptions.

Be sure to read all of Jacob's account of the study. The research itself was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Image via AnimationValley.