Empathy and schadenfreude in human–robot teams

Dorina de Jong*, Ruud Hortensius, Te Yi Hsieh, Emily S. Cross

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Intergroup dynamics shape the ways in which we interact with other people. We feel more empathy towards ingroup members compared to outgroup members, and can even feel pleasure when an outgroup member experiences misfortune, known as schadenfreude. Here, we test the extent to which these intergroup biases emerge during interactions with robots. We measured trial-by-trial fluctuations in emotional reactivity to the outcome of a competitive reaction time game to assess both empathy and schadenfreude in arbitrary human-human and human-robot teams. Across four experiments (total n = 361), we observed a consistent empathy and schadenfreude bias driven by team membership. People felt more empathy towards ingroup members than outgroup members and more schadenfreude towards outgroup members. The existence of an intergroup bias did not depend on the nature of the agent: the same effects were observed for human-human and human–robot teams. People reported similar levels of empathy and schadenfreude towards a human and robot player. The human likeness of the robot did not consistently influence this intergroup bias. In other words, similar empathy and schadenfreude biases were observed for both humanoid and mechanoid robots. For all teams, this bias was influenced by the level of team identification; individuals who identified more with their team showed stronger intergroup empathy and schadenfreude bias. Together, we show that similar intergroup dynamics that shape our interactions with people can also shape interactions with robots. Our results highlight the importance of taking intergroup biases into account when examining social dynamics of human-robot interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number35
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Cognition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Collaboration
  • Empathy
  • Human-robot interactions
  • Intergroup bias
  • Schadenfreude
  • Social cognition


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