Social robots are increasingly being used in educational settings for support. However, the question remains: Does the sound of a social robot affect its performance, particularly when dealing with teams of humans? Teamwork is a crucial factor in human creativity, as it enhances collaboration and new ideas. The University of Southern Denmark’s researchers set out to study whether robots using a voice designed to sound charismatic would be more successful as team creativity facilitators.

The Study

The researchers had a robot instruct teams of students in a creativity task. The robot used either a confident, passionate, or charismatic tone of voice or a normal, matter-of-fact tone of voice. “We found that when the robot spoke in a charismatic speaking style, students’ ideas were more original and more elaborate,” said Dr. Kerstin Fischer, the corresponding author of the study in Frontiers in Communication.

The researchers aimed to see if social robot voices engineered for characteristics associated with charismatic speaking could reproduce the effect of facilitators in boosting creativity. Two voices were created, one charismatic and one less expressive, based on a range of parameters that correlate with perceived speaker charisma.

The Experiment

The researchers recruited five classes of university students, all taking courses that included an element of team creativity. The students were told that they were testing a creativity workshop, which involved brainstorming ideas based on images and then using those ideas to come up with a new chocolate product. The workshop was led by videos of a robot speaking, introducing the task, reassuring the teams of students that there were no bad ideas, and then congratulating them for completing the task and asking them to fill out a self-evaluation questionnaire.

The creativity of each session was measured by the number of original ideas produced and how elaborate they were. The questionnaire evaluated the robot’s performance, the students’ own views on how their teamwork went, and the session’s success.

The Results

The group that heard the charismatic voice rated the robot more positively, finding it more charismatic and interactive. Their perception of their teamwork was more positive, and they produced more original and elaborate ideas. They rated their teamwork more highly. On the other hand, the group that heard the non-charismatic voice perceived themselves as more resilient and efficient, possibly because a less charismatic leader led to better organization by the team members themselves, even though they produced fewer ideas.

“I had suspected that charismatic speech has very important effects, but our study provides clear evidence for the effect of charismatic speech on listener creativity,” said Dr. Oliver Niebuhr, co-author of the study. “This is the first time that such a link between charismatic voices, artificial speakers, and creativity outputs has been found.”

The study shows that social robots using charismatic voices can facilitate team creativity. However, not all teams responded identically to the different voices, and previous experiences in their different classes may have affected their response. The researchers pointed out that larger studies will be needed to understand how these external factors affected team performance. They also noted that more exposure or repeated exposure to the charismatic speaking style could have even stronger effects, and the effect size may change if other or more features were varied. Finally, since charismatic speaking patterns differ between cultures, the same stimuli may not yield the same results in all languages and cultures.


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