The Social Pragmatics of Communication with Social Robots: Effects of Robot Message Design Logic in a Regulative Context

Autumn Edwards, Chad Edwards*, Andrew James Gambino

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


When social robots are used in communicative contexts, the norms, values, and expectations associated with the process of communication itself are important considerations. Message design logics (MDL) are working models of communication that lead to distinct ways of thinking about communication situations and reasoning from goals to messages. The three MDLs are expressive, conventional, and rhetorical. Respectively, they treat communication as a vehicle for the transmission of information, a game to be played cooperatively according to social norms, and the creation and negotiation of social selves and situations. In human communication, there is an observed preference for partners and messages that display the most sophisticated rhetorical MDL. The purpose of this study was to test/extend the theory of MDL and communication pragmatics in HRI. An online between-subjects experiment of 511 U.S. American adults was conducted to determine the effects of a social robot’s MDL and goal structure on people’s evaluations of the message and its source in a hypothetical regulative context, or a situation in which one individual is faced with the need to control or correct the behavior of another. Results demonstrated that rhetorical message designs led to the most positive impressions of the robot in terms of predicted communication success, goal-relevant attributes (ability to motivate and provide face support), competence, credibility, and attractiveness. Findings mirror results in earlier studies of human communication establishing an MDL sophistication advantage in communication dilemmas. Analysis of qualitative responses showed that participants understood the robot’s overall communication pragmatic differently on the basis of the MDL it demonstrated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)945-957
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Social Robotics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Communication

User-Defined Keywords

  • Mutual shaping
  • Message design logic
  • Social robots
  • Credibility
  • Face support
  • Attraction
  • Regulative situations


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