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Thomas Kuhlenbeck/Science Source

Want to convince someone that you’re human? This one word could do the trick

Suppose you and a humanoid robot stood before a judge who planned to kill the nonhuman. What would you say to prove you’re the real deal?

Researchers asked 1000 online participants to imagine that scenario. Volunteers came up with words like “love,” “mercy,” and “banana”—perhaps thinking that a machine wouldn’t have use for such verbiage. The scientists then paired the most popular words together and asked 2000 online participants to guess which of the two came from a human and which from a robot (even though they both came from humans).

The winningest word had, surprisingly, nothing to do with human emotion, but rather with a different ability altogether: “poop.” The team, which reports its findings next month in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, suspects that profanities and other words that evoke emotions rather than describe them—such as “moist”—might also do well.

The test has no near-term applications in computer security, but it could help researchers explore stereotypes about groups of people. For example, what word would you say to convince someone you’re a woman?