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1-min read

There's a Scientific Reason Why You Find Humanoid Robots Creepy, Says Study

A future study could investigate the relationship between brain activity and how people felt weird when they see different humanoids, rather than how much they like or dislike these figures.

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Updated:July 5, 2019, 6:33 PM IST
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There's a Scientific Reason Why You Find Humanoid Robots Creepy, Says Study
A future study could investigate the relationship between brain activity and how people felt weird when they see different humanoids, rather than how much they like or dislike these figures.
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According to studies, 'uncanny valley' is a dip in emotional response that happens when one encounters an entity that is almost, but not exactly human. Basically, it means that more a robot resembles a human, the more they trust it, but only up to a point, following which, the effect is reversed and people start perceiving them to be eerie and unsettling. Now, for the first time ever, a study has mapped out how the brain decides whether a robot is likeable or looks too much human for comfort.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University Duisburg-Essen, Germany, and published in the Journal of Neuroscience, marked a region of brain networks that are behind the neural phenomenon. The researchers studied 21 healthy individuals during two separate tests using fMRI to measure the blood flow changes in the brain as an identification of how much activity was going on in different regions.

First, the participants were asked to rate pictures of robots on how human like they looked. Secondly, participants were shown these pictures in pairs and were asked to choose from either one of them, whom they would like to receive a gift from.

As per the Uncanny Valley effect, most participants rated the humanlike figures as being the most likeable, but the study suggested that participants preferred gifts from humans or from more human-like artificial agents, but not the ones closest to the human-robot threshold.

Brain scans revealed that activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, or VMPFC — a region involved in making value judgments — mirrored participants’ uncanny valley reactions. VMPFC activity was typically higher in response to more humanlike pictures, but dipped in response to artificial humans.

However, the analysis of the study derived from the Uncanny Valley Effect, was subjective as it concluded that no particular robot design is likeable or creepy for all users.

A future study could investigate the relationship between brain activity and how people felt weird when they see different humanoids, rather than how much they like or dislike these figures.

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