Humans Show Empathy for Robots

In two new studies, researchers aimed to measure how people responded to robots on an emotional and neurological level. In the first study, participants were shown videos of a small dinosaur robot being treated affectionately or violently. The researchers assessed the participants’ level of physiological excitation after watching the videos by recording their skin conductance, a measure of how well the skin conducts electricity. The volunteers reported feeling more negative emotions while watching the video of the robot being abused, and the data showed that their skin conductance levels increased, showing they were more distressed. In the second study, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to visualize brain activity while the participants watched the videos. That humans would be empathetic toward the robot is unsurprising, as the machine looked and behaved like an animal, according to roboticist and BlabDroid founder Alexander Reben. “We think that, in general, the robot stimuli elicit the same emotional processing as the human stimuli,” says University of Duisburg Essen researcher Astrid Rosenthal-von der Putten. She also says the growing ubiquity of robots will make understanding human-robot interactions increasingly important.

More info: LiveScience (NY) (04/23/13) Tanya Lewis

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