Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Experimental Psychology

Department or School/College


Committee Chair

Rachel L. Severson

Commitee Members

Allen Szalda-Petree, Michael Musick, Adam Baimel


behavioral synchrony, mentalizing, child-robot interaction, anthropomorphism


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Developmental Psychology


Behavioral synchrony, or the act of keeping rhythm with others, has many implications on children’s interactions with others, from prosocial behaviors to feelings of affiliation with synchronous people. However, little is known about how behavioral synchrony applies to non-human entities. From robots leading movement-based learning in classrooms or being engaged in cultural settings, a new series of questions arise for how children view synchronizing with non-human others. The current study aimed to investigate how broadly synchronization effects would extend in a child sample: Are behavioral synchrony effects limited to synchronizing with humans or do they extend to social agents (e.g., social robots) or any device that moves (e.g., metronome)? To address this question, this study employed a 3 x 2 design with agent (human, social robot, metronome) as a between-subjects factor and synchronization (synchronous, asynchronous) as a within-subjects factor. Participants (N=104; 5-8 years) were randomly assigned to an agent condition. In two test phases, participants played a clapping game in which they clapped with a ‘partner’ (agent) to the same (synchronous) or a different (asynchronous) beat (counter-balanced order). After each test phase, participants responded to questions (random order) assessing the child’s ascription of mental states and sociality to the partner. Following both test phases, participants completed a sticker sharing task where they allocated an odd number of stickers between the synchronous and asynchronous partners. Results indicated that synchrony influenced children’s sharing preferences, such that they gave more stickers to the synchronous human partner but asynchronous non-human partners. Regardless of synchrony, children attributed significantly more mental states to humans compared to the robot and metronome and significantly more sociality to the robot. Developmental differences emerged for sharing preferences, such that 7-year-olds preferred to share synchronously, whereas 5- and 6-year-olds preferred to share asynchronously. Additionally, 7-year-olds attributed less sociality overall. 6-year-olds attributed sociality more generously, and 5-year-olds were approaching significance for more generous attributions of sociality nearly on par with the 6-year-olds. Overall, behavioral synchrony impacted how children allocated stickers. That is, synchrony effects applied to all entities, but in different directions: Children preferred synchronous humans and asynchronous non-human entities.

Available for download on Wednesday, May 01, 2024


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