Can social awareness improve autonomous cars’ road robustness? That’s what a team of researchers at MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory set out to discover in a recent study. They built a system that classifies the behavior of other drivers with respect to their selfishness — in other words, whether drivers are less likely to act altruistically toward other cars. In tests, they say their algorithm better predicted how drivers would behave by a factor of 25%.

“Creating more human-like behavior in autonomous vehicles (AVs) is fundamental for the safety of passengers and surrounding vehicles, since behaving in a predictable manner enables humans to understand and appropriately respond to the AV’s actions,” said graduate student and lead research author Wilko Schwarting in a statement.

The team’s model draws both on game theory and the psychological concept of Social Value Orientation (SVO), which indicates the degree to which someone is selfish (“egoistic”) versus cooperative (“prosocial”). To architect it, they modeled scenarios where drivers tried to maximize their utility, in which the model learned to predict from snippets of motion whether the drivers were cooperative, altruistic, or egoistic. Over time and in this way, the AI came to understand when it’s appropriate to exhibit different driving behaviors.