From The Iron Giant to Big Hero 6, many of us will be familiar with tales of kids befriending robots, which suggest generations of young children are more trusting of advice from machines than their own flesh and blood.

An international research team has now found it's not just in fiction. In a study involving 111 kids aged between 3 and 6 years old, the youngsters showed a preference for believing robots more and being more accepting when robots made mistakes.

As kids we need to take in a huge amount of new information as we learn about the world, and filter out fact from fiction, and the researchers behind this new study wanted to see how information from different sources was received.

"The question then becomes, how do children choose who to learn from when faced with conflicting testimonies?" write the researchers in their published paper.

The kids were split up into different groups and shown videos of robots and humans labeling objects – some objects the children would already recognize, as well as new objects they wouldn't know the names of.

Human and robot reliability was demonstrated by giving familiar objects incorrect name, calling a plate a spoon for example. In this way the researchers could manipulate the children's sense of who to trust.

Where both humans and robots were shown to be equally reliable, the youngsters were more likely to want to ask robots the names of new objects and accept their labels as accurate. What's more, the children were more likely to favor robots when asked about who they would share secrets with, who they would want to be friends with, and who they would want to have as teachers.

"Children's conceptualizations of the agents making a mistake also differed, such that an unreliable human was selected as doing things on purpose, but not an unreliable robot," write the researchers.

"These findings suggest that children's perceptions of a robot's reliability are separate from their evaluation of its desirability as a social interaction partner and its perceived agency."

There were individual differences in the responses: older kids were more trusting of humans than younger kids, but only when the robot was shown to be unreliable compared to the human. Taken as a whole though, the results showed these children thought reliable robots were more trustworthy than reliable humans.

One area where this research might be useful is in education, especially in a world where kids are increasingly surrounded by technology.

The researchers didn't ask anything about why these children felt that the robots they met could be trusted more than people. What's more, video interactions may not always accurately reflect real world interactions, so a study involving live interactions is needed to confirm the results.

"What it is about the robot, exactly, which makes it preferable, remains an open question," write the researchers.

The research has been published in Computers in Human Behavior.