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A study has revealed that people feel safer in driverless cars if the vehicles exhibit more considerate and kind human-like personality traits. With people still wary of trusting robotics, the findings highlight how tech brands could design their products to help inspire confidence in users. We explore the insights behind this and how personality can influence perceptions of robotics.

“We wanted to answer the question: If we want to encourage people to use autonomous vehicles, how can we design the vehicles’ perceived personalities, or driving styles so that drivers are more willing to adopt them?” says Lionel Robert, an associate professor at the University of Michigan Robotics Institute. In order to do so, the study examined five main personality traits — extraversion, conscientiousness, emotional stability, agreeableness, and openness to experience. By surveying 440 drivers to determine how high or low they scored on each personality trait, and then asking participants to watch videos from the front seat point-of-view as an autonomous vehicle exhibited different driving styles, the study concluded that people are more likely to feel safer in driverless vehicles if the cars come across as agreeable, conscientious, and emotionally stable. 

Agreeable personalities make driverless cars feel safer Agreeable personalities make driverless cars feel safer
Averie Woodard (2017) ©

No longer the stuff of sci-fi, technological advances have made driverless cars an increasingly prevalent part of reality — but as a number of casualties have dented public perception of the vehicles, lack of trust is still a significant barrier preventing many from embracing this mode of transport. When compared to the fact that 90% of crashes in the US are caused by driver error, however, autonomous cars are still generally perceived to be much safer modes of transport, due to the elimination of factors such as alcohol and drug consumption, smart-phone notifications, and road rage. “It’s all about perception,” says X. Jessie Yang, assistant professor at the University of Michigan. “Objectively, autonomous vehicles could have very reliable performance, but if the human does not perceive them as safe, then they will not use them.” 

At a time when 58% of global consumers are unsure but intrigued by the idea of self-driving cars, features that boost perceptions of safety could help positively sway opinion. With participants reporting an increase in perceptions of safety by up to 13.9% when cars exhibited agreeable, conscientious, and emotionally stable personality traits, adopting these findings presents an opportunity for driverless car brands to generate greater trust among hesitant passengers. With tech increasingly incorporated into more areas of society, the findings could additionally be applied to different sectors to help normalize the presence of robots. Oodi Library in Finland similarly experimented with the humanization of technology by giving its library robot googly eyes, successfully making it more appealing and approachable to customers.

Lottie Hanwell is a junior behavioural analyst. She loves travelling, reading novels, cuddling dogs and hosting dinner parties. A graduate of Engish Literature and Spanish, she’s adventured through South and Central America where she developed a taste for Argentine Malbec and dodgy Reggaeton. Now settled back in London, she hopes to translate her fondness of people-watching to her role at Canvas8.


26 Nov 19
2 min read

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