FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Can a Cute Robot Make People More Generous?

What is it about the human persona that makes us want to help others? Altruism is one of the traits that separates us from animals, but we know surprisingly little about it, or what evokes feelings of caring and generosity.

Scientists believe that caring is an evolutionary trait, leading early humans to cooperate and pool their resources to survive. But what exactly triggers caring emotions? To answer that, an experiment at Harvard used two groups: one that was asked to donate money online, and another that was also asked for donations, but through a website that featured a cute, doe-eyed robot named Kismet. The group donating through Kismet's website gave 30% more money than the group without Kismet.

The researchers concluded that there is something deep within our primal memory that responds to big, pleading eyes. It's perhaps one reason why we respond with affection toward babies, puppies and other cute, cuddly critters. Yet, as the experiment showed, we can't distinguish between an actual cute critter and a likeness of one.

Understanding what triggers feelings of giving can be used by everyone from charities to the IRS to marketers, both honest and dishonest. If you want someone's money, don't schmooze or threaten them. Just stare at them with big, soulful eyes...

Source: New Scientist