May 24, 2024

New research reveals how basic psychological needs influence attitudes towards artificial intelligence

New research published in Telematics and Informatics provides evidence that the fulfillment of basic psychological needs through technology use is linked to changes in attitudes towards artificial intelligence over time. The findings indicate that self-determination, particularly feelings of competence and relatedness, plays a crucial role in shaping both negative and positive attitudes towards this emerging technology.

“We live in a world where artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more common and accessible than ever. People’s attitudes towards AI will most certainly have a huge effect on how fast and widely AI can spread in society and how the development of AI will turn out,” said study author Jenna Bergdahl, a researcher at the Emerging Technologies Lab at Tampere University.

“As a researcher, I work in the Emerging Technologies Lab at Tampere University, where we are particularly interested in the new technological forms of life that constantly challenge and transform human and post-human living. Two projects from the Emerging Technologies Lab, called UrbanAI and Self & Technology, are focusing especially on artificial intelligence in society and conducting cross-national social psychological research on human-technology interaction.”

“The Emerging Technologies Lab has a relatively long history of researching these topics and working on these projects, which has enabled us to identify a research gap,” Bergdahl explained. “Our study is the first to examine associations between basic psychological needs and attitudes toward AI. Furthermore, there was a lack of cross-national and longitudinal research on this topic, especially during this time when AI is becoming more important in all domains of life.”

The researchers conducted two studies to understand how people’s attitudes towards AI are influenced by their basic psychological needs and experiences with technology.

In the first study, they surveyed 8,806 people from different countries (Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Poland) to gather their opinions about AI. Participants were asked about their attitudes towards AI using a scale that included both positive and negative statements. For example, they were asked to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with statements like “much of society will benefit from a future full of Artificial Intelligence” and “I think Artificial Intelligence is dangerous.” The researchers measured both positive and negative attitudes towards AI separately.

The researchers also asked about the participants about use of different smart technologies, such as smart robots, virtual assistants, and wearable smart devices. Finally, they assessed three psychological needs: autonomy (feeling in control of their actions), competence (feeling capable of using technology effectively), and relatedness (feeling connected to others through technology).

The findings from the first study showed that when people felt more competent in using technology and had a sense of relatedness with others through technology, they tended to have more positive attitudes towards AI. Likewise, when people’s autonomy, competence, and relatedness needs were met, they had fewer negative attitudes towards AI.

“We discovered that competence and relatedness were associated with AI positivity in all six countries,” Bergdahl told PsyPost. “This suggests that individuals who feel competent in using new technologies and have a sense of connection with other technology users tend to perceive AI more positively across these countries. The results indicate that experiencing competence and relatedness in relation to new technologies is linked to fewer negative attitudes towards them, particularly concerning AI.”

Additionally, they found that the relationship between these needs and attitudes towards AI can vary slightly depending on the country’s context and the participants’ exposure to technology.

“Notably, autonomy was only associated with AI positivity in Finland,” Bergdahl explained. “Contextual factors likely play a significant role in shaping Finnish participants’ views. Finland’s high ranking in digitalization and digital performance in Europe, according to the European Commission’s report in 2022, could be a contributing factor. Increased exposure to technology, personal autonomy, and experience in interacting with new technology and AI may explain this positive relationship in the Finnish context.”

In the second study, the researchers analyzed data collected from Finnish respondents over two waves, approximately one year apart (2021-2022), to see how their attitudes towards AI changed over time. They found that when people’s needs for autonomy and relatedness were fulfilled, their positive attitudes towards AI increased and their negative attitudes decreased.

The researchers concluded that when people’s basic psychological needs are met through technology use, they tend to have more positive attitudes towards AI. Understanding these factors can help in implementing AI technologies more efficiently and making them more acceptable to people.

“The findings of this study highlight the significance of self-determination in shaping both negative and positive attitudes towards AI,” Bergdahl said. “The fulfilment of basic psychological needs such as autonomy, competence, and relatedness can influence the acceptance of AI, thus influencing the adoption and rapid development of new AI applications. ”

“The study conducted comprehensive tests of AI acceptance in various settings, making it a robust cross-national and longitudinal investigation into the connection between basic social psychological needs and attitudes towards AI. The implications of these results are twofold, offering both theoretical and practical insights. They serve as a solid foundation for future research on this topic, helping to deepen our understanding of the complex dynamics between human psychology and AI acceptance.”

The study, “Self-Determination and Attitudes Toward Artificial Intelligence: Cross-National and Longitudinal Perspectives“, was authored by Jenna Bergdahl, Rita Latikka, Magdalena Celuch, Iina Savolainen, Eerik Soares Mantere, Nina Savela, and Atte Oksanen.

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