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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Could a Rising Robot Workforce Make Humans Less Prejudiced?

Jackson, J., Castelo, N. & Gray, K. (2019).
American Psychologist. (2019)

Automation is becoming ever more prevalent, with robot workers replacing many human employees. Many perspectives have examined the economic impact of a robot workforce, but here we consider its social impact: how will the rise of robot workers affect intergroup relations? Whereas some past research suggests that more robots will lead to more intergroup prejudice, we suggest that robots could also reduce prejudice by highlighting commonalities between all humans. As robot workers become more salient, intergroup differences—including racial and religious differences—may seem less important, fostering a perception of a common human identity (i.e., “panhumanism.”) Six studies (∑N= 3,312) support this hypothesis. Anxiety about the rising robot workforce predicts less anxiety about human out-groups (Study 1) and priming the salience of a robot workforce reduces prejudice towards out-groups (Study 2), makes people more accepting of out-group members as leaders and family members (Study 3), and increases wage equality across in-group and out-group members in an economic simulation (Study 4). This effect is mediated by panhumanism (Studies 5-6), suggesting that the perception of a common human in-group explains why robot salience reduces prejudice. We discuss why automation may sometimes exacerbate intergroup tensions and other-times reduce them.

From the General Discussion

An open question remains about when automation helps versus harms intergroup relations. Our evidence is optimistic, showing that robot workers can increase solidarity between human groups. Yet other studies are pessimistic, showing that reminders of rising automation can increase people’s perceived material insecurity, leading them to feel more threatened by immigrants and foreign workers (Im et al., in press; Frey, Berger, & Chen, 2017), and data that we gathered across 37 nations—summarized in our supplemental materials—suggest that the countries that have automated the fastest over the last 42 years have also increased more in explicit prejudice towards out-groups, an effect that is partially explained by rising unemployment rates.

The research is here.