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Social robots with a local accent seem more trustworthy

To explore the impact of dialects in social robot communication, researchers at the University of Potsdam conducted a study focusing on the Berlin dialect versus standard German. The research, led by Katharina Kühne, uncovers varied preferences for robot speech styles.

“Robots are increasingly used as interaction partners with humans. Social robots are designed to follow expected behavioral norms when engaging with humans and are available with different voices and even accents. Some studies suggest that people prefer robots to speak in the user’s dialect, while others indicate a preference for different dialects,” the authors explained.

Human perceptions

The research indicates that a robot’s speech affects human perceptions of trustworthiness and competence. Standard language often conveys intelligence, while familiar dialects offer comfort. 

“Imagine a robot that can switch to a dialect. Now, consider what’s more critical in your interaction with a robot: feeling a connection or perceiving it as competent,” Kühne said.

Focus of the study

Involving 120 participants from Berlin or Brandenburg, the study assessed responses to a robot using either standard German or the Berlin dialect, known for its working-class, informal image. 

The participants watched videos of a robot with a male human voice in one of the two language styles and then rated its trustworthiness and competence.

Key insights

The results showed a link between competence perception and trustworthiness. Overall, standard German was preferred, but those comfortable with the Berlin dialect tended to favor the robot using it. 

Interestingly, the type of device used to view the videos influenced responses, with mobile device users giving lower ratings to standard German, potentially due to distractions.

Study implications 

The study suggests that dialect proficiency can influence trust in robots. “It seems people trust the robot more because they find a similarity,” Kühne explained. However, factors like cognitive load during interactions and the prestige of a dialect also play significant roles.

The University of Potsdam team plans further research to investigate cognitive load during conversations and conduct real-life situation experiments. The findings highlight the importance of context in robot-human interactions and the potential for adaptable speech styles in social robots.

More about social robots

Social robots are a fascinating and rapidly evolving field of technology. These robots are designed to interact with humans in a social or collaborative manner, often exhibiting behaviors or characteristics that make them seem more lifelike or relatable. 


Unlike traditional industrial robots that are typically confined to specific tasks in controlled environments, social robots are intended for a variety of environments including homes, schools, hospitals, and care facilities.


The primary goal of social robots is to engage in meaningful interactions with people. This can include assisting with daily tasks, providing companionship, aiding in education, or assisting in therapy and healthcare. 


These robots are often equipped with advanced features like facial and voice recognition, natural language processing, and emotional intelligence to better understand and respond to human emotions and cues.


A key aspect of social robots is their design. They are often designed to appear friendly and approachable, sometimes with humanoid features or resembling pets to help users feel more comfortable interacting with them. This is particularly important in applications involving children, the elderly, or those with special needs, where the robot’s appearance can significantly impact its effectiveness.


Social robots can range from relatively simple devices designed for companionship or entertainment to highly sophisticated machines capable of learning and adapting to their user’s preferences and behaviors. Some advanced models can remember personal details, adapt to different users, or even develop a personality over time.

Challenges and opportunities 

As the field progresses, ethical considerations are increasingly important. Issues such as privacy, security, and the potential impact on human jobs and social interactions are being closely examined. The integration of social robots into society presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities, and their development continues to be an area of active research and debate.

The study is published in the journal  Frontiers in Robotics and AI.

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