Relationship Development with Humanoid Social Robots: Applying Interpersonal Theories to Human–Robot Interaction

Jesse Fox*, Andrew Gambino

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

76 Citations (Scopus)


Humanoid social robots (HSRs) are human-made technologies that can take physical or digital form, resemble people in form or behavior to some degree, and are designed to interact with people. A common assumption is that social robots can and should mimic humans, such that human–robot interaction (HRI) closely resembles human-human (i.e., interpersonal) interaction. Research is often framed from the assumption that rules and theories that apply to interpersonal interaction should apply to HRI (e.g., the computers are social actors framework). Here, we challenge these assumptions and consider more deeply the relevance and applicability of our knowledge about personal relationships to relationships with social robots. First, we describe the typical characteristics of HSRs available to consumers currently, elaborating characteristics relevant to understanding social interactions with robots such as form anthropomorphism and behavioral anthropomorphism. We also consider common social affordances of modern HSRs (persistence, personalization, responsiveness, contingency, and conversational control) and how these align with human capacities and expectations. Next, we present predominant interpersonal theories whose primary claims are foundational to our understanding of human relationship development (social exchange theories, including resource theory, interdependence theory, equity theory, and social penetration theory). We consider whether interpersonal theories are viable frameworks for studying HRI and human–robot relationships given their theoretical assumptions and claims. We conclude by providing suggestions for researchers and designers, including alternatives to equating human–robot relationships to human-human relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)294-299
Number of pages6
JournalCyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking
Issue number5
Early online date11 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Communication

User-Defined Keywords

  • human–robot interaction
  • social robots
  • anthropomorphism
  • social affordances
  • computers are social actors
  • relationship development


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