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      Understanding the Uncanny: Both Atypical Features and Category Ambiguity Provoke Aversion toward Humanlike Robots

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          Robots intended for social contexts are often designed with explicit humanlike attributes in order to facilitate their reception by (and communication with) people. However, observation of an “uncanny valley”—a phenomenon in which highly humanlike entities provoke aversion in human observers—has lead some to caution against this practice. Both of these contrasting perspectives on the anthropomorphic design of social robots find some support in empirical investigations to date. Yet, owing to outstanding empirical limitations and theoretical disputes, the uncanny valley and its implications for human-robot interaction remains poorly understood. We thus explored the relationship between human similarity and people's aversion toward humanlike robots via manipulation of the agents' appearances. To that end, we employed a picture-viewing task ( N agents = 60) to conduct an experimental test ( N participants = 72) of the uncanny valley's existence and the visual features that cause certain humanlike robots to be unnerving. Across the levels of human similarity, we further manipulated agent appearance on two dimensions, typicality (prototypic, atypical, and ambiguous) and agent identity (robot, person), and measured participants' aversion using both subjective and behavioral indices. Our findings were as follows: (1) Further substantiating its existence, the data show a clear and consistent uncanny valley in the current design space of humanoid robots. (2) Both category ambiguity, and more so, atypicalities provoke aversive responding, thus shedding light on the visual factors that drive people's discomfort. (3) Use of the Negative Attitudes toward Robots Scale did not reveal any significant relationships between people's pre-existing attitudes toward humanlike robots and their aversive responding—suggesting positive exposure and/or additional experience with robots is unlikely to affect the occurrence of an uncanny valley effect in humanoid robotics. This work furthers our understanding of both the uncanny valley, as well as the visual factors that contribute to an agent's uncanniness.

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          Most cited references 44

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          Social Psychological Face Perception: Why Appearance Matters.

          We form first impressions from faces despite warnings not to do so. Moreover, there is considerable agreement in our impressions, which carry significant social outcomes. Appearance matters because some facial qualities are so useful in guiding adaptive behavior that even a trace of those qualities can create an impression. Specifically, the qualities revealed by facial cues that characterize low fitness, babies, emotion, and identity are overgeneralized to people whose facial appearance resembles the unfit (anomalous face overgeneralization), babies (babyface overgeneralization), a particular emotion (emotion face overgeneralization), or a particular identity (familiar face overgeneralization). We review studies that support the overgeneralization hypotheses and recommend research that incorporates additional tenets of the ecological theory from which these hypotheses are derived: the contribution of dynamic and multi-modal stimulus information to face perception; bidirectional relationships between behavior and face perception; perceptual learning mechanisms and social goals that sensitize perceivers to particular information in faces.
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            Anthropomorphism and the social robot

             Brian Duffy (2003)
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              The thing that should not be: predictive coding and the uncanny valley in perceiving human and humanoid robot actions

              Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) repetition suppression, we explored the selectivity of the human action perception system (APS), which consists of temporal, parietal and frontal areas, for the appearance and/or motion of the perceived agent. Participants watched body movements of a human (biological appearance and movement), a robot (mechanical appearance and movement) or an android (biological appearance, mechanical movement). With the exception of extrastriate body area, which showed more suppression for human like appearance, the APS was not selective for appearance or motion per se. Instead, distinctive responses were found to the mismatch between appearance and motion: whereas suppression effects for the human and robot were similar to each other, they were stronger for the android, notably in bilateral anterior intraparietal sulcus, a key node in the APS. These results could reflect increased prediction error as the brain negotiates an agent that appears human, but does not move biologically, and help explain the ‘uncanny valley’ phenomenon.

                Author and article information

                Front Psychol
                Front Psychol
                Front. Psychol.
                Frontiers in Psychology
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                30 August 2017
                : 8
                1Social Systems Laboratory, Computer Science, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Edinburg, TX, United States
                2Emotion, Brain, and Behavior Laboratory, Psychology, Tufts University Medford, MA, United States
                3Center for Design Research, Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University Stanford, CA, United States
                4Social Cognition Laboratory, Psychology, Tufts University Medford, MA, United States
                5Social Identity and Stigma Laboratory, Psychology, Tufts University Medford, MA, United States
                6Robots in Groups Laboratory, Information Science, Cornell University Ithaca, NY, United States
                Author notes

                Edited by: Bilge Mutlu, University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States

                Reviewed by: Roope Raisamo, University of Tampere, Finland; Silvia Gabrielli, Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Italy

                *Correspondence: Megan K. Strait megan.strait@

                This article was submitted to Human-Media Interaction, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology

                Copyright © 2017 Strait, Floerke, Ju, Maddox, Remedios, Jung and Urry.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                Page count
                Figures: 6, Tables: 5, Equations: 0, References: 51, Pages: 17, Words: 12483
                Original Research


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