Freaked out by robots? Recall a familiar robot movie.

A tip for robot designers: incorporate features that remind older adults of robots in movies and TV
March 12, 2016

Familiar robot movies (credits: Disney/Pixar, Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 20th Century Fox respectively)

Older adults who recalled more robots portrayed in films had lower anxiety toward robots than seniors who remembered fewer robot portrayals, Penn State researchers found in a study.

That could help elders accept robots as caregivers, said S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory.

“Increasingly, people are talking about smart homes and health care facilities and the roles robots could play to help the aging process,” said Sundar. “Robots could provide everything from simple reminders — when to take pills, for example — to fetching water and food for people with limited mobility.”

The more robot portrayals the study subjects could recall, regardless of the robot’s characteristics (even threatening ones, like the Terminator), the more they led to more positive attitudes on robots, and eventually more positive intentions to use a robot. People also had a more positive reaction to robots that looked more human-like and ones that evoked more sympathy.

The most recalled robots included robots from Bicentennial Man, Forbidden Planet, Lost In Space, Star Wars, The Terminator, Transformers, Wall-E, and I, Robot.

Abstract of The Hollywood Robot Syndrome: Media Effects on Older Adults’ Attitudes toward Robots and Adoption Intentions

Do portrayals of robots in popular films influence older adults’ robot anxiety and adoption intentions? Informed by cultivation theory, disposition theory and the technology acceptance model, the current survey (N = 379) examined how past exposure to robots in the media affect older adults’ (Mage = 66) anxiety towards robots and their subsequent perceptions of robot usefulness, ease of use, and adoption intentions. The results of a structural equation model (SEM) analysis indicate that the higher the number of media portrayals recalled, the lower the anxiety towards robots. Furthermore, recalling robots with a human-like appearance or robots that elicit greater feelings of sympathy was related to more positive attitudes towards robots. Theoretical and practical implications of these results for the design of socially assistive robots for older adults are discussed.


  • S. Shyam Sundar, T. Franklin Waddell, Eun Hwa Jung. The Hollywood Robot Syndrome: Media Effects on Older Adults’ Attitudes toward Robots and Adoption Intentions. Proceedings of IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI 2016); (In Press)