Optimus Primed: Media Cultivation of Robot Mental Models and Social Judgments

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33 Scopus citations


Media influence people's perceptions of reality broadly and of technology in particular. Robot villains and heroes—from Ultron to Wall-E—have been shown to serve a specific cultivation function, shaping people's perceptions of those embodied social technologies, especially when individuals do not have direct experience with them. To date, however, little is understood about the nature of the conceptions people hold for what robots are, how they work, and how they may function in society, as well as the media antecedents and relational effects of those cognitive structures. This study takes a step toward bridging that gap by exploring relationships among individuals' recall of robot characters from popular media, their mental models for actual robots, and social evaluations of an actual robot. Findings indicate that mental models consist of a small set of common and tightly linked components (beyond which there is a good deal of individual difference), but robot character recall and evaluation have little association with whether people hold any of those components. Instead, data are interpreted to suggest that cumulative sympathetic evaluations of robot media characters may form heuristics that are primed by and engaged in social evaluations of actual robots, while technical content in mental models is associated with a more utilitarian approach to actual robots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number62
JournalFrontiers in Robotics and AI
StatePublished - May 7 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • characters
  • exemplification
  • heuristics
  • mental models
  • mentalizing
  • priming
  • sympathy
  • trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Artificial Intelligence


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