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Research at the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory showed that emotional cues such as facial expressions and body language can be key factors in how machines and humans team-up. Those emotional expressions shape cooperation.

“People learn to trust and cooperate with autonomous machines,” ARL’s Celso de Melo, a computer scientist, told If a human member of the soldier-robot team is feeling particularly stressed, and the AI in the system can better read that stress and its effects, it can modify its communication to respond to the teammate.

“Human cooperation is paradoxical,” de Melo said in an Army release. “An individual is better off being a free rider, while everyone else cooperates; however, if everyone thought like that, cooperation would never happen. Yet, humans often cooperate. This research aims to understand the mechanisms that promote cooperation, with a particular focus on the influence of strategy and signaling.”

Whether we humans realize it or not, there’s a constant back and forth going on, verbally and nonverbally, when we communicate. That’s especially true when we are working in a team, toward a goal. Something as simple as the timing of a smile can change a lot about how people perceive they’re being treated in a team. “We show that emotion expressions can shape cooperation,” de Melo said. “For instance, smiling after mutual cooperation encourages more cooperation; however, smiling after exploiting others — hinders cooperation.”

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