Young children can be influenced by robots more successfully than adults, even when the robots are obviously wrong, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Plymouth compared how adults and children responded to peer pressure and to interjections by robots while completing an identical task.

The study, published in the journal Science Robotics, found that children aged between seven and nine were more likely to select an incorrect answer when it was suggested by a robot.

According to the researchers, their study raises concerns about the potential for robots to have a negative effect on vulnerable young children when they are used in educational settings.

Professor in Robotics Dr Tony Belpaeme said: "People often follow the opinions of others and we've known for a long time that it is hard to resist taking over views and opinions of people around us.

"We know this as conformity. But, as robots will soon be found in the home and the workplace, we were wondering if people would conform to robots.

"What our results show is that adults do not conform to what the robots are saying. But when we did the experiment with children, they did," added Professor Belpaeme.

"It shows children can perhaps have more of an affinity with robots than adults, which does pose the question: what if robots were to suggest, for example, what products to buy or what to think?"

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Image: Children can have more of an affinity with robots than adults

The researchers concluded: "A future in which autonomous social robots are used as aids for education professionals or child therapists is not distant.

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"In these applications, the robot is in a position in which the information provided can significantly affect the individuals they interact with.

"A discussion is required about whether protective measures, such as a regulatory framework, should be in place that minimise the risk to children during social child-robot interaction and what form they might take so as not to adversely affect the promising development of the field."

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