Attributing Blame to Robots: I. The Influence of Robot Autonomy

Hum Factors. 2021 Jun;63(4):592-602. doi: 10.1177/0018720819880641. Epub 2019 Oct 15.


Objective: The research examined how humans attribute blame to humans, nonautonomous robots, autonomous robots, or environmental factors for scenarios in which errors occur.

Background: When robots and humans serve on teams, human perception of their technological team members can be a critical component of successful cooperation, especially when task completion fails.

Methods: Participants read a set of scenarios that described human-robot team task failures. Separate scenarios were written to emphasize the role of the human, the robot, or environmental factors in producing the task failure. After reading each scenario, the participants allocated blame for the failure among the human, robot, and environmental factors.

Results: In general, the order of amount of blame was humans, robots, and environmental factors. If the scenario described the robot as nonautonomous, the participants attributed almost as little blame to them as to the environmental factors; in contrast, if the scenario described the robot as autonomous, the participants attributed almost as much blame to them as to the human.

Conclusion: We suggest that humans use a hierarchy of blame in which robots are seen as partial social actors, with the degree to which people view them as social actors depending on the degree of autonomy.

Application: The acceptance of robots by human co-workers will be a function of the attribution of blame when errors occur in the workplace. The present research suggests that greater autonomy for the robot will result in greater attribution of blame in work tasks.

Keywords: human–automation interaction; human–robot interaction; social processes.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Robotics*
  • Social Perception