Machines and Mindlessness: Social Responses to Computers



Following Langer (1992), this article reviews a series of experimental studies that demonstrate that individuals mindlessly apply social rules and expectations to computers. The first set of studies illustrates how individuals overuse human social categories, applying gender stereotypes to computers and ethnically identifying with computer agents. The second set demonstrates thatpeople exhibit overlearned social behaviors such as politeness and reciprocity toward computers. In the third set of studies, premature cognitive commitments are demonstrated: A specialist television set is perceived as providing better content than a generalist television set. A final series of studies demonstrates the depth of social responses with respect to computer ‘personality.’ Alternative explanations for these findings, such asanthropomorphism and intentional social responses, cannot explain the results. We conclude with an agenda for future research.