Why People Resist Robots

In a world filled with smart technology, consumers face an intriguing dilemma when it comes to accepting autonomous products. While devices like robotic vacuums promise convenience, do they inadvertently rob us of a deeper sense of fulfillment? Researchers at Columbia Business school recently shed some light on how the perceived “meaning of manual labor” (MML) can be a key determinant in our reluctance to accept robotics. It turns out that the more consumers are relieved of mundane tasks, the more they long for the satisfaction those tasks once provided. There’s no doubt that chores like cleaning and mowing can be cumbersome — they inject a sense of purpose into our daily lives. However, high levels of product autonomy can lead to consumer disempowerment and reduced feelings of control. That’s why many people are more reluctant to give up something that makes them feel a sense of accomplishment and worth, handing it over to a mindless piece of machinery. Consumers vary in the extent to which they derive meaning from manual tasks, giving them an MML rating. For instance, a person’s preference for manual dishwashing or activities like painting can indicate a higher MML. Those with a high MML are often resistant to autonomous products because they take away a source of meaning in their lives. For companies aiming to break the barriers of MML, the way forward is clear. Emphasizing the meaningful moments and experiences that autonomous products can unlock is crucial.