Morale in the workplace goes out the window and stress levels rise when humans compete against high-performing robots in contests for cash prizes, according to a new Cornell-led study that looked at how a robot’s performance can affect the behavior and reaction of humans when competing against each other simultaneously.
Researchers found that when humans started to lose against the robots, they viewed themselves as less competent and began to put less effort into the game. They also wound up not liking the robots.
These findings validate what behavioral economists have been saying all along- that people won’t try as hard when their competitors are doing better. It is not an ideal situation in increasingly automated workplaces but researchers are hoping the results can help optimize teams of people and robots working together.
"Humans and machines already share many workplaces, sometimes working on similar or even identical tasks," explained study author Guy Hoffman. "Think about a cashier working side-by-side with an automatic check-out machine, or someone operating a forklift in a warehouse, which also employs delivery robots driving right next to them."
Hoffman noted that while it may be tempting for companies to design robots to deliver optimal productivity, engineers and managers needed to consider how this may affect other workers.
To shed more light on the situation, researchers led a study that saw participants compete against a robot in the tedious task of counting how many times the letter G appeared in a string of characters. They would then place a block in the bin corresponding to the number of occurrences. The chances of winning each round was determined by a lottery based on the difference between the human’s and robot’s scores: If their scores were the same, the human had a 50 percent chance of winning the prize. That likelihood rose or fell depending which participant was doing better.
A screen was set up within view of the competitors to make them aware of the stakes and their chance of winning from moment to moment.
After each round, participants were given a questionnaire to fill out. They rated the robot’s competence, their own competence and the robot’s likability but researchers found that as the robot performed better, people rated its competence higher, its likability lower and their own competence lower.
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