This shows a well dressed robot with a bible.

Robo-religion: AI preachers questioned for credibility and impact on donations – Neuroscience News

Summary: According to the researchers, religious groups could find their credibility and financial support undermined by the growing use of AI and preaching robots.

The study involved experiments with the humanoid robot Mindar in Japan and Pepper in Singapore, both of which gave sermons to the public. Participants rated these robotic preachers as less believable than their human counterparts, contributing to the drop in donations.

Despite some acceptance, the study emphasizes the importance of human connection and credibility in religious leadership.

Main aspects:

  1. Participants rated AI preachers as less credible, with an average score of 3.12 out of 5, compared to human preachers who received an average score of 3.51.
  2. The use of AI preachers, such as Mindar and Pepper, has led to reduced donations to temples in both Japan and Singapore.
  3. Even in digital form, when sermons were said to be written by AI, they were deemed less credible, potentially leading to a decline in religious commitment.

Source: APA extension

As AI expands into more professions, preacher robots and AI programs offer new means to share religious beliefs, but they can undermine credibility and reduce giving for religious groups that rely on them, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Robots seem to take on more jobs every year, but I wouldn’t be so sure religious leaders will ever be fully automated because religious leaders need credibility and robots aren’t credible, said lead researcher Joshua Conrad Jackson, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

This shows a well dressed robot with a bible.
Participants found Mindar less credible and made smaller donations than those who heard a sermon from the human priest. Credit: Neuroscience News

The research was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Jackson and his colleagues conducted an experiment with the humanoid robot Mindar at the Kodai-Ji Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. The robot has a human-like silicon face with moving lips and flashing eyes on a metal body. Offers 25 minutes of Heart Sutra sermons on Buddhist principles with surround sound and multimedia projections.

Mindar, which was created in 2019 by a Japanese robotics team in collaboration with the temple, cost nearly $1 million to develop, but could reduce donations to the temple, according to the study.

The researchers interviewed 398 participants who were leaving the temple after hearing a sermon delivered by Mindar or a human Buddhist priest. Participants found Mindar less credible and made smaller donations than those who heard a sermon from the human priest.

In another experiment at a Taoist temple in Singapore, half of 239 participants listened to a sermon by a human priest while the other half listened to the same sermon by a humanoid robot called Pepper. That experiment had similar results: The robot was seen as less believable and inspired small donations.

Participants who listened to the robot’s sermon also said they were less likely to share its message or distribute flyers to support the temple.

While participants said they thought human preachers were more believable, it was still a close race with robots. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most credible, robot preachers received an average credibility rating of 3.12, compared to 3.51 for human preachers.

That suggests there are a lot of people out there who think robots could be effective preachers, but there are more people who aren’t convinced, Jackson said.

While the preacher robot’s studies have focused on Eastern religions, Jackson believes the findings could apply to other religions.

A third experiment involved 274 Christian participants from the United States reading a sermon online. Half of the participants were told that it was written by a human preacher, while the other half were told that the sermon was generated by a highly advanced artificial intelligence program.

Participants in the AI ​​sermon group reported that the sermon was less believable because they believed an AI program had less ability to think or feel like a human.

Robots and AI programs can’t truly hold any religious beliefs, so religious organizations could see a decline in engagement from their congregations if they rely more on technology than human leaders who can demonstrate their faith, Jackson said.

About this research news on artificial intelligence, robotics and neurotheology

Author: APA Public Affairs
Source: APA extension
Contact: APA Public Affairs – APA
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original research: Free access.
“Exposure to Preaching Robots Undermines Religious Commitment” by Joshua Conrad Jackson et al. Journal of Experimental Psychology


Exposure to preaching robots undermines religious commitment

Over the past decade, robots have continued to infiltrate the workforce, permeating occupations that once seemed immune to automation. This process appears to be inevitable because robots have ever-expanding capabilities.

However, drawing on theories of cultural evolution and social learning, we propose that robots may have limited influence in domains requiring high degrees of credibility; here we focus on the automation of religious preachers as one such domain.

Using a recently automated natural experiment in a Buddhist temple (Study 1) and a completely randomized experiment in a Taoist temple (Study 2), we consistently demonstrate that religious adherents perceive robot preachers and the institutions that employ them as less credible than human preachers.

This lack of credibility explains the reduction in religious engagement after people listened to robotic (vs. humans) preachers deliver sermons.

Study 3 conceptually replicates this finding in an online experiment and suggests that religious elites require perceived minds (agency and patience) to be credible, which is in part why robot preachers inspire less credibility than humans.

Our studies support cultural evolutionary theories of religion and suggest that escalation of religious automation can induce religious decline.

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