When your boss is a robot: Workers are more spiteful to robot supervisors that seem more human

Kai Chi YAM*, E-Yang GOH, Ryan FEHR, Randy LEE, Harold SOH, Kurt GRAY

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Robots are transforming organizations, with pundits forecasting that robots will increasingly perform managerial tasks. One such key managerial task is the evaluation and delivery of feedback regarding an employee's performance, including negative feedback. However, within this context of delivering negative feedback, we suggest that anthropomorphism—a factor most practitioners and researchers consider as a panacea for overcoming difficulties in human-robot interaction—can backfire. Drawing upon the theory of mind perception, we find that an anthropomorphised robot supervisor delivering negative feedback is more likely than a non-anthropomorphised robot to be perceived as possessing agency. This perceived agency causes perceptions of abuse to arise, which in turn leads to higher supervisor-directed retaliation (operationalized as powering down the robot supervisor; Study 1). These findings even extend to third-person observers witnessing the delivery of negative feedback, again culminating in supervisor-directed retaliation (Study 2). We conclude by discussing the theoretical and practical implications of these findings.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104360
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Early online date1 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research is supported by a Singapore Ministry of Education Tier 1 Grant ( R-317-000-164-115 ) awarded to the first author.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Inc.


  • Anthropomorphism
  • Mind perception
  • Negative feedback


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