When it is ok to give the Robot Less: Children’s Fairness Intuitions Towards Robots

Oshrat Ayalon, Hannah Hok, Alex Shaw, Goren Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Children develop intuitions about fairness relatively early in development. While we know that children believe other humans care about distributional fairness, considerably less is known about whether they believe other agents, such as robots, do as well. In two experiments (N = 273) we investigated 4- to 9-year-old children’s intuitions about whether robots would be upset about unfair treatment as human children. Children were told about a scenario in which resources were being split between a human child and a target recipient: either another child or a robot across two conditions. The target recipient (either child or robot) received less than another child. They were then asked to evaluate how fair the distribution was, and whether the target recipient would be upset. Both Experiment 1 and 2 used the same design, but Experiment 2 also included a video demonstrating the robot’s mechanistic “robotic” movements. Our results show that children thought it was more fair to share unequally when the disadvantaged recipient was a robot rather than a child (Experiment 1 and 2). Furthermore, children thought that the child would be more upset than the robot (Experiment 2). Finally, we found that this tendency to treat these two conditions differently became stronger with age (Experiment 2). These results suggest that young children treat robots and children similarly in resource allocation tasks, but increasingly differentiate them with age. Specifically, children evaluate inequality as less unfair when the target recipient is a robot, and think that robots will be less angry about inequality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1581-1601
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Social Robotics
Issue number9-10
StatePublished - Oct 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


  • Child–robot interaction
  • Fairness
  • Resource allocation
  • Social cognitive development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • General Computer Science
  • Social Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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