Understanding the Uncanny: The Effects of Human Similarity on Aversion towards Humanlike Robots
Abstract: Towards facilitating their reception by and communication with human
interactants, robots intended for social contexts are often designed with explicit
humanlike attributes. However, observation of an "uncanny valley" - a phenomenon in which
certain humanlike entities provoke aversion - has lead some to caution against this
practice. Substantial evidence supports both of these contra... read moresting perspectives on the
anthropomorphic design of social robots. Yet, owing to outstanding empirical limitations
and theoretical disputes, the un- canny valley - the nature of its e ects, the underlying
mechanisms, and even its existence - remains poorly understood. Across three experiments,
we thus explored the relationship between human similarity and people's aversion towards
robots via manipulation of the agents' appearances for both robots (Studies 1-3) and human
individuals (Study 3). Here, not only do we establish an uncanny valley in the design space
of existing social robots, but moreover, we demonstrate that this valley provokes avoidance
(Studies 1-3). Countering a common critique, our ndings additionally suggest that the
valley is robust to exposure (Studies 2-3). Specifically, while pre-exposure in uences
participants' aversion, it did not attenuate participants' aversion towards valley agents
(Study 2). Similarly, we found no meaningful relationship between pre-existing attitudes
towards robots and par-ticipants' aversive responding (Study 3). Further manipulation of
the agents' appearances (Study 3) suggests, instead, that this valley e ect is driven by
inconsistent realism and category uncertainty. Speci cially, in contrast to en- counters
with humanlike but prototypic agents, encounters with agents with salient atypicalities
(e.g., a robot with highly humanlike head), as well as di cult-to-categorize agents (e.g.,
an android robot), elicited signi cant aver- sion. The present ndings further our
understanding of the complex - but im- pactful - relationship between human similarity and
aversion towards robots, while also identifying additional research questions for future
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2016.
Submitted to the Dept. of Psychology.
Advisor: Heather Urry.
Committee: Malte Jung, Wendy Ju, Keith Maddox, and Jessica Remedios.
Keywords: Robotics, Cognitive psychology, and Social psychology.read less