It is not uncommon for humans to exhibit abusive behaviour towards robots. This study compares how abusive behaviour towards a human is perceived differently in comparison with identical behaviour towards a robot. We showed participants 16 video clips of unparalleled quality that depicted different levels of violence and abuse. For each video, we asked participants to rate the moral acceptability of the action, the violence depicted, the intention to harm, and how abusive the action was. The results indicate no significant difference in the perceived morality of the actions shown in the videos across the two victim agents. When the agents started to fight back, their reactive aggressive behaviour was rated differently. Humans fighting back were seen as less immoral compared with robots fighting back. A mediation analysis showed that this was predominately due to participants perceiving the robot’s response as more abusive than the human’s response.
We created a little video to demonstrate the two main conditions of the experiment, a human or a robot being abused and then fighting back. We would like to acknowledge Jake Watson and Sam Gorski from Corridor Digital who made the stimuli for this experiment available.