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Humans Respond Emotionally to Robots

Humans Respond Emotionally to RobotsTechnology is on a roll as robots and other forms of simulation devices are now used in schools, home and work environments.

Robots and simulations can do just about anything from cleaning up after a spilled coffee to providing a platform for physicians to practice delivering babies — with all the bodily fluids and vocalizations included.

A new study shows just how much robotics are becoming part of society, as researchers found that humans have similar brain function when shown images of affection and violence being inflicted on robots and humans.

Affectionate relationships with robots have dominated the silver screen; think of R2D2 and C3-PO in the original “Star Wars” film, and even the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Historically, significant research in the field of human-robot interaction has concentrated on the implementation of emotion models in robotic systems. These studies test implementations with regard to their believability and naturalness, their positive influence on participants, or enjoyment of the interaction.

But there is little known on how people perceive “robotic” emotion and whether they react emotionally towards robots. People often have problems verbalizing their emotional state or find it strange to report on their emotions in human-robot interactions.

In an attempt to determine how humans really think about these inanimate creatures, German researchers Astrid Rosenthal-von der Pütten, Nicole Krämer, and Matthias Brand conducted two studies.

The studies were designed to utilize objective measures linked to emotion, such as physiological arousal and brain activity associated with emotional processing.

In the first study, 40 participants watched videos of a small dinosaur-shaped robot that was treated in an affectionate or a violent way and measured their level of physiological arousal and asked for their emotional state directly after the videos.

Participants reported feeling more negative watching the robot being abused and showed higher arousal during the negative video.

The second study used functional magnetic-resonance imaging (fMRI), to investigate potential brain correlations of human-robot interaction in contrast to human-human interaction.

The 14 participants were presented videos showing a human, a robot and an inanimate object, again being treated in either an affectionate or in a violent way.

Researchers found that individuals displayed similar neural activation patterns for affection, indicating that they elicit similar emotional reactions.

However, when comparing videos showing abusive behavior, participants showed more negative empathetic concern for humans.

Experts see robots as a potential tool helping elders or the physically challenged to remain independent and enhance quality of life.

“One goal of current robotics research is to develop robotic companions that establish a long-term relationship with a human user, because robot companions can be useful and beneficial tools.

“They could assist elderly people in daily tasks and enable them to live longer autonomously in their homes, help disabled people in their environments, or keep patients engaged during the rehabilitation process,” said Rosenthal-von der Pütten.

“A common problem is that a new technology is exciting at the beginning, but this effect wears off especially when it comes to tasks like boring and repetitive exercise in rehabilitation. The development and implementation of uniquely humanlike abilities in robots like theory of mind, emotion and empathy is considered to have the potential to solve this dilemma.”

Source: International Communication Association

Human and robotic hands photo by shutterstock.

Humans Respond Emotionally to Robots

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Humans Respond Emotionally to Robots. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 24 Apr 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.