Scientists Explore the Creepy Effect of Human-like Robots

There is a common experience among most people when they see a robot that is very humanly. The sight of such a bot or animation can send chills down your spine. Researchers have set out to discover what happens in the brain during such incidents. New research points to a specific section of the brain that could be behind these creepy experiences.


Exploring Reactions to Human-like Robots

Robots and animations are becoming more and more believable and human-like. In a new study, 21 volunteer participants were shown pictures of robots and humans. The first of two activities was a combination of viewing images of humans and robots with varying degrees of humanness. The second activity was viewing images of artificial humans, which are pictures of humans with slightly edited or distorted features. It was this second activity that was used to simulate how realistic robots could potentially be.

The participants also had to rate how much they liked the pictures and how humanly the robots appeared to them. They also had to select their preferred choice out of two robot pictures.
The brains of the participants were scanned using MRI to analyze the kind of neural activity induced by the images viewed. The findings could help to explain the “uncanny valley” effect, which is the unsettling feeling that you have when you see humanly bots.

Upon analyzing the neural activity in the brains of the people in the experiment, the researchers identified the part of the brain that could explain the “uncanny valley” effect. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex or VMPFC region of the brain was found to be important in how the participants evaluated the images. This information could be useful in a number of ways, including helping robot designers reduce the level of creepiness in their creations.

The study was conducted by Fabian Grabenhorst, a neuroscientist, together with colleagues. The findings are further described in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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