Analyzing socially acceptable human-robot interaction holistically - a social-psychological multi-level approach

Leichtmann, Benedikt; Nitsch, Verena (Thesis advisor); Rosenthal-von der Pütten, Astrid Marieke (Thesis advisor)

Aachen : RWTH Aachen University (2021)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, 2021


The successful implementation of new robotic technology in contexts with human users requires a socially acceptable human-robot interaction and needs to consider the socio-technical system holistically. Human-robot interaction is embedded in a social system and shapes but also is shaped by this social context. Research in human-robot interaction thus needs to take into consideration the social matrix in which the interaction is embedded on multiple levels of analysis. One scientific field that can enhance human-robot interaction research in achieving socially acceptable designs of systems is social psychology. Based on these assumptions, this dissertation has three major contributions: First, it is conceptually shown how socially acceptable human-robot interaction can be studied holistically by applying social-psychological theories, methods, and research practices on multiple levels of analysis. In doing so, a framework with two layers is proposed, a layer of phenomena, on which the human-robot interaction as a social phenomenon is analyzed, and a meta-scientific layer, on which philosophical foundations, theories, methods, and research practices of human-robot interaction as a discipline are critically reflected. Furthermore, on the layer of phenomena, human-robot interaction is analyzed on three different levels, an individual level focusing on social thinking, a situational level focusing on social relations and contextual effects, and a higher system level describing social impact emerging from social system dynamics.Second, in order to contribute to a better understanding of human-robot interaction on each level of analysis, four empirical studies are presented addressing research gaps on different topics of human-robot interaction. Social thinking is analyzed in a laboratory experiment on the social desirability bias with N = 107 participants. This experiment is a conceptual replication of a classic study by Nass, Moon, and Carney (1999) stating that technological devices are perceived as social actors. However, the results failed to show such an effect indicating that the social desirability effect is overestimated. Social relations are analyzed by studying personal space in human robot interaction. A systematic literature review and meta-analysis including k = 27 studies with N = 1299 participants, as well as theoretical considerations, show that knowledge on personal space in human-robot interaction is limited due to mixed effects and many problems in theory, methods, and research practices. An additional laboratory experiment with N = 72 participants on the effect of contextual factors on personal space is presented to address a research gap. However, neither room size nor working memory load had significant effect on users’ comfort distance toward an approaching manufacturing robot. In order to understand the social impact of robots, attitudes toward the implementation of a new cooperative industrial robot were analyzed based on data of N = 556 workers from manufacturing companies using factor and network analysis. In doing so, a new, context-specific 12-item questionnaire (ACIR-Q) had been developed. This study shows how workers’ attitudes toward robots are influenced by organizational variables and differ between organizations.A third contribution of this dissertation is based on meta-scientific conclusions. Throughout the dissertation, it is demonstrated how human-robot interaction research can be improved in terms of theory, methods, and scientific practices. Human-robot interaction is facing the same problems that have been discussed in context of social psychology’s replicability crisis. Therefore, the reforms in social psychology are also recommended for human-robot interaction research.Human-robot interaction is still in its infancy and the results in this dissertation show that it is facing many challenges. Social-psychology can not only help to design social-acceptable human-robot interaction on different levels of analysis, but also enhance the human-robot interaction discipline’s research methods and theory.


  • Chair of the Individual and Technology [751110]
  • Chair and Institute of Industrial Engineering and Ergonomics [417110]