Heuristic thinking and altruism toward machines in people impacted by COVID-19

iScience. 2021 Mar 19;24(3):102228. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2021.102228. Epub 2021 Feb 23.


Autonomous machines are poised to become pervasive, but most treat machines differently: we are willing to violate social norms and less likely to display altruism toward machines. Here, we report an unexpected effect that those impacted by COVID-19-as measured by a post-traumatic stress disorder scale-show a sharp reduction in this difference. Participants engaged in the dictator game with humans and machines and, consistent with prior research on disasters, those impacted by COVID-19 displayed more altruism to other humans. Unexpectedly, participants impacted by COVID-19 displayed equal altruism toward human and machine partners. A mediation analysis suggests that altruism toward machines was explained by an increase in heuristic thinking-reinforcing prior theory that heuristic thinking encourages people to treat machines like people-and faith in technology-perhaps reflecting long-term consequences on how we act with machines. These findings give insight, but also raise concerns, for the design of technology.

Keywords: Computer Science; Human-Computer Interaction; Sociology.