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Does Japan really have robot mania? Comparing attitudes by implicit and explicit measures


Japan has more robots than any other country with robots contributing to many areas of society, including manufacturing, healthcare, and entertainment. However, few studies have examined Japanese attitudes toward robots, and none has used implicit measures. This study compares attitudes among the faculty of a US and a Japanese university. Although the Japanese faculty reported many more experiences with robots, implicit measures indicated both faculties had more pleasant associations with humans. In addition, although the US faculty reported people were more threatening than robots, implicit measures indicated both faculties associated weapons more strongly with robots than with humans. Despite the media’s hype about Japan’s robot ‘craze,’ response similarities suggest factors other than attitude better explain robot adoption. These include differences in history and religion, personal and human identity, economic structure, professional specialization, and government policy. Japanese robotics offers a unique reference from which other nations may learn.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    In other words, robots that could pass the Total Turing Test (Harnad 1989).

  2. 2.

    Ironically, Western philosophy has progressively backed away from substance dualism (MacDorman 2004).

  3. 3.

    Nevertheless, Buddhism does make a distinction between sentient and nonsentient beings, and prohibits the slaughter of sentient beings.

  4. 4.

    The Economist, December 1, 2001, p. 96.

  5. 5.

    Sweden ranks first of 128 countries with the narrowest gender gap. The US is listed at 31 compared to 91 for Japan (Hausmann et al. 2007).

  6. 6.

    In 2005, Japan’s population was 127,756,000, and there were 1,392 murders, 5,988 robberies, 2,076 rapes, and 25,815 acts of violence (Japan Statistical Yearbook 2008, Chap. 25, Justice and police, p. 773, Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications). In 2005, the USA’s population was 296,507,061 and there were 16,740 murders, 417,438 robberies, 94,347 rapes, and 1,390,745 acts of violence (2006 Crime in the United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice).

  7. 7.

    Personal communication.

  8. 8.

    IFI Patent Intelligence Issues Annual Rankings of Top U.S. Patent Assignees, PR Newswire, January 11, 2008.


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We are grateful for the helpful advice and kind assistance of Leslie Ashburn-Nardo, Mahzarin Banaji, Stephen J. Cowley, Anthony Faiola, Sara A. Hook, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Josette Jones, Peter H. Kahn, Sara Kiesler, Tatsuya Nomura, Satoshi V. Suzuki, Hiroaki Yamano, Hiroki Yokota, and three anonymous reviewers.

Author information

Correspondence to Karl F. MacDorman.

Appendix: Questionnaire

Appendix: Questionnaire

Robot-related experiences

  1. 1.

    How many times in the past one (1) year have you read robot-related stories, comics, news articles, product descriptions, conference papers, journal papers, blogs, or other material? (6-point scale) 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or more

  2. 2.

    How many times in the past one (1) year have you watched robot-related programs on film, television, DVD, the Internet, or other media?

  3. 3.

    How many times in the past ten (10) years have you had physical contact with a robot?

  4. 4.

    How many times in the past ten (10) years have you attended robot-related lectures, exhibitions, trade shows, competitions, or other events?

  5. 5.

    How many times in your life have you built or programmed a robot?

Attitudes toward robots

  1. 1.

    Select the statement that best describes your opinion. (7-point scale)

    • I strongly prefer robots to people. (+3)

    • I like robots and people equally. (0)

    • I strongly prefer people to robots. (−3)

  2. 2.

    Rate how warm or cold you feel toward robots. (11-point scale)

    • Very cold (−5)

    • Neutral (0)

    • Very warm (+ 5)

  3. 3.

    Rate how warm or cold you feel toward people. (11-point scale)

  4. 4.

    Select the statement that best describes your opinion. (7-point scale)

    • Robots are much more threatening than people. (+ 3)

    • Robots and people are equally threatening. (0)

    • People are much more threatening than robots. (−3)

  5. 5.

    Rate how safe or threatening you feel robots are. (11-point scale)

  6. 6.

    Rate how safe or threatening you feel people are. (11-point scale)

  7. 7.

    How familiar are you with robots? (6-point scale)

    • Not at all familiar (0)

    • Completely familiar (+5)

  8. 8.

    How interested are you in robots? (6-point scale)

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MacDorman, K.F., Vasudevan, S.K. & Ho, C. Does Japan really have robot mania? Comparing attitudes by implicit and explicit measures. AI & Soc 23, 485–510 (2009).

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  • Humanoid Robot
  • Implicit Association Test
  • Category Boundary
  • Target Concept
  • Explicit Measure