A new analysis of brain scans may explain why hyperrealistic androids and animated characters can be creepy.
By measuring peoples neural activity as they viewed pictures of humans and robots, researchers identified a region of the brain that seems to underlie the “uncanny valley” effect — the unsettling sensation sometimes caused by robots or animations that look almost, but not quite, human (SN Online: 11/22/13). Better understanding the neural circuitry that causes this feeling may help designers create less unnerving androids.
In research described online July 1 in the Journal of Neuroscience, neuroscientist Fabian Grabenhorst and colleagues took functional MRI scans of 21 volunteers during two activities. In each activity, participants viewed pictures of humans, humanoid robots of varying realism and — to simulate the appearance of hyperrealistic robots — “artificial humans,” pictures of people whose features were slightly distorted through plastic surgery and photo editing.
In the first activity, participants rated each picture on likability and how humanlike the figures appeared. Next, participants chose between pairs of these pictures, based on which subject they would rather receive a gift from. In line with the uncanny valley effect, participants generally rated more humanlike candidates as more likable, but this trend broke down for artificial humans — the most humanlike of the nonhuman options. A similar uncanny valley trend emerged in participants judgments about which figures were more trustworthy gift-givers.
Brain scans revealed that activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, or VMPFC — a region involved in making value judgments — mirrored participants uncanny valley reactions. VMPFC activity was typically higher in response to more humanlike pictures, but dipped in response to artificial humans. That drop was most pronounced in people with the strongest dislike for artificial humans. Those findings suggest that this region of the brain underpins the uncanny valley sensation, the researchers say.
But this analysis may not directly map uncanny valley chills to neural activity, says human-computer interaction researcher Karl MacDorman. TRead More – Source