A Touching Connection: How Observing Robotic Touch Can Affect Human Trust in a Robot


As robots begin to occupy our social spaces, touch will increasingly become part of human–robot interactions. This paper examines the impact of observing a robot touch a human on trust in that robot. In three online studies, observers watched short videos of human–robot interactions and provided a series of judgments about the robot, which either did or did not touch the human on the shoulder. Trust was measured using a recently introduced multi-dimensional instrument, which assesses people’s trust in a robot as being capable, reliable, sincere, and/or ethical. The first study showed that observed robot touch increased overall trust in the robot, especially for the sincere and ethical trust aspects, and led people to perceive the robot as more comforting, but also more inappropriate. A second study replicated the general pattern, even with a handshake preceding the touch; but in the context of the handshake the touch was seen as more inappropriate. A third study examined the joint impact of a handshake, touch, and information about the robot’s designed function. In the context of such information, observed touch was seen as even more inappropriate, which in turn decreased trust.

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This project was funded in part by National Science Foundation Grant IIS-1316809 and robot AFOSR Grant FA9550-18-1-0465.

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Law, T., Malle, B.F. & Scheutz, M. A Touching Connection: How Observing Robotic Touch Can Affect Human Trust in a Robot. Int J of Soc Robotics (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12369-020-00729-7

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  • Robot touch
  • Human–robot trust
  • Social connection
  • Human–robot interaction