Research Reveals An Intuitive Solution To Quell AI Panic
Researcher Jenna Bergdahl discusses how fulfilling psychological needs drives positive attitudes towards AI.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | August 24, 2023
A new article published in Telematics and Informatics reveals that people's fulfillment of basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) significantly influences their attitudes toward artificial intelligence (AI). The study, using the Self-Determination Theory, found that meeting these needs fosters positive AI attitudes, particularly competence and relatedness, which consistently produced positive results across six European countries.
I recently spoke to Jenna Bergdahl, a researcher on the UrbanAI project at Tampere University in Finland, and the lead author of the paper to discuss how their research underscores the importance of addressing these psychological needs to promote AI acceptance. Here is a summary of our conversation.
What inspired you to investigate this topic? Could you provide a brief overview of the self-determination theory and its relevance to understanding attitudes towards artificial intelligence? How do basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) play a role in shaping these attitudes?
I am part of the Emerging Technologies Lab at Tampere University, Finland. Our primary focus lies in exploring the evolving landscape of emerging technologies, which consistently challenge and reshape the dynamics of human and post-human existence. Due to the extensive scope of research within the Emerging Technologies Lab, we were able to pinpoint this research gap in cross-national and longitudinal research on this topic.
Self-Determination Theory (SDT), developed by Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, is a theoretical framework focusing on human motivation and well-being. It proposes that individuals have three basic psychological needs: autonomy (control over one's actions), competence (feeling effective in tasks), and relatedness (connection with others). When these needs are met, intrinsic motivation and well-being increase. Self Determination Theory suggests that environments supporting these needs lead to greater satisfaction and optimal functioning. This theory has been applied to various areas, but our study is the first to investigate the relationship between basic psychological needs and attitudes toward AI.
We proved that Self-Determination Theory also holds explanatory power for attitudes towards AI. Both positive and negative attitudes towards AI were explained in the study by basic psychological needs.
Here's an excerpt from the study that answers this question:
"We found that competence and relatedness were associated with AI positivity in all six countries, suggesting that people who relate to other technology users and feel competent in using new technologies perceive AI more positively consistently across these countries (Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Poland). Some country-specific differences were also observed: most importantly, that autonomy was associated with AI positivity only in Finland. There are likely contextual factors at play contributing to Finnish participants&rsquo higher prioritization of autonomy in technology use and AI positivity."
Could you briefly describe the methodology of your study? What were some of your most interesting findings?
We investigated attitudes toward AI through two studies that are based on the self-determination theory and basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness).
In the first study, we analyzed data from six European countries (Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Poland) and found that lower fulfillment of basic psychological needs exposes us to more negative attitudes towards artificial intelligence.
On the other hand, the experience of competence and relatedness makes us more positively inclined toward AI. For Finns, the experience of autonomy was also a significant factor behind positive attitudes.
The second study was carried out with Finnish respondents using data collected at two different time points. We observed that increasing the satisfaction of the needs for autonomy and relatedness was associated with an increase in AI positivity and a decrease in AI negativity. This means that people who experience more fulfillment of these needs will also experience more positivity and less negativity toward AI.
We also found statistically significant between-person effects in autonomy, competence, and relatedness, which were all connected to less negative attitudes toward AI, whereas individuals with higher perceived autonomy and competence expressed both less negativity and more positivity toward AI.
Could you discuss the implications of your findings regarding the positive impact of autonomy and relatedness on AI positivity and negativity? How might these results contribute to our understanding of the evolution of AI acceptance?
Here are a couple excerpts from the study that answer this question:
"Based on previous literature, if psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are met, people will have more positive attitudes toward the elements in their environment that meet those needs. Our results provide support for this notion, suggesting it also applies to introducing AI to one&rsquos environment. Overall, we found that competence and relatedness were associated with AI positivity in all six countries, suggesting that people who relate to other technology users and feel competent in using new technologies perceive AI more positively consistently across these countries (Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Poland)."&ndash
"Whereas competence and relatedness were associated with positive attitudes toward AI across countries, the role of autonomy was less consistent, only being positively associated with positive attitudes toward AI in Finland. It is possible that the sense of autonomy relates to a positive outlook on AI and reduced fears around it, as exposure to this new technology increases. Future longitudinal and experimental studies should investigate and test this hypothesis."
Current research indicates that attitudes toward AI differ from traditional technology acceptance, possibly due to distinct benefits and risks. Certain psychological factors may specifically correlate with AI attitudes compared to other technologies.
Prior research suggests a potential link between individuals' basic psychological needs and factors influencing their technology attitudes. However, limited evidence exists regarding this connection in relation to AI.
This study addresses this gap by examining the cross-national and longitudinal relationship between basic psychological needs and positive/negative AI attitudes. The findings underscore the significance of self-determination in shaping both negative and positive AI attitudes.
What are the key practical takeaways from your research for the layman?
In our study, we discovered that our desires to feel capable, connected, and in control influence our opinions about artificial intelligence. These feelings, which are also known as basic psychological needs, can shape whether we end up liking or disliking AI. Finnish individuals who believe they can use technology on their own terms also tend to have a more positive outlook on AI.
People have both hopes and worries about artificial intelligence. Understanding the different ways people view AI can help us use and benefit from these technologies in more flexible and effective ways. As we move forward, it's important to make sure our basic psychological needs are met when we interact with artificial intelligence.
In light of your research, how might organizations that are implementing AI technologies within their operations leverage the insights from self-determination theory to enhance employee engagement, satisfaction, and acceptance of AI-driven changes in the workplace?
It is important that these research findings are taken into account in the future when implementing artificial intelligence technologies into organizational operations. Previous literature indicates that when individuals' psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are fulfilled, they tend to develop more positive attitudes toward elements in their environment that meet those needs. Our findings support this notion, suggesting its applicability to the introduction of AI into work settings. Based on our cross-national investigation from six countries (Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Poland) people who relate to other technology users and feel competent in using new technologies perceive AI more positively.
To enhance AI acceptance and facilitate a smooth transition, organizations should focus on two key aspects.
First, fostering a sense of competence among employees and second, creating an environment that promotes relatedness between AI technology users.
Whereas competence and relatedness were associated with positive attitudes toward AI across countries, the role of autonomy was less consistent, only being positively associated with positive attitudes toward AI in Finland.
Results from Finland should also be taken into closer consideration since Finland has been ranked among the leading countries in digitization and digital performance in Europe. It is possible that increased exposure factors, namely personal autonomy and experience in interacting with new technology and AI, likely explain this positive relationship in Finland. Experiencing autonomy may help alleviate fears about AI, as it is linked to more positive attitudes towards it.
Overall, organizations can enhance AI engagement and acceptance by aligning AI implementation strategies with the principles of self-determination theory. By addressing employees' psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness, organizations can foster a positive and supportive environment for embracing AI-driven changes.