Dr. Ruud Hortensius

Assistant Professor
Social, Health and Organisational Psychology

"How do long-term interactions with AI shape the social behaviour of individuals, groups, and families?"

The main goal of the research programme of Ruud Hortensius is to understand social cognition during interactions with artificial intelligence (AI), such as social robots, and how these new technologies can enhance social behaviour. For this he uses an interdisciplinary approach, combining psycholog,  AI, and as one of the few researchers worldwide, social neuroscience. 

Neurocognition of real-world interactions with AI

In his research, he tries to break away from measuring artificial behaviour of individuals inside the lab and combines the strengths of self-report, behavioural, and brain measures to measure the neurocognition of our actual social life with AI. He brings the lab into the home. This neurocognitive approach allows him to not only answer the popular question “can you be friends with a robot?” but also to carefully assess how interactions with AI shape and are shaped by distinct social cognitive processes (e.g., empathy, emotion, reward). Supported by an ERC Starting Grant he and his team will take one further step and investigate the impact of AI on social dynamics of families. Integrating empirical work, he has put forward a comprehensive theoretical framework on how people perceive and interaction with AI impacting multiple disciplines. He has received the Rising Star award from the Association of Psychological Research in recognition of this and other work in 2023. 

A conversation about AI in society

Ruud actively pursues public engagement, including activities for children and older adults, to start a nuanced conversation about AI in society. He initiated an artist-in-residency project funded by an ESRC Impact Acceleration Award to explore the public impact of his research. Together with artist Merel Bekking, he created an interactive art performance called ‘A Popularity Contest in the Robotic Petting Zoo’ that translates research on emotion perception, engages the local community, and facilitates community feedback on ongoing research. He has given lectures to children, public discussions on AI in the local library, and talked to the media. Currently, he is the coordinator of the AI Helpdesk, a future platform that gathers questions about AI from citizens and answers these in a scientifically-sound manner.

Ruud is a member of the Utrecht Young Academy since March 2023.