Brainwave Evidence of the Uncanny Valley
Why do people tend to shy away from clowns, zombies, or human-like robots? It’s a phenomenon called the uncanny valley, and for years it’s been known about and discussed by the robotics world. Now, there is quantifiable evidence to back it up instead of just psychological speculation.
The uncanny valley is a psychological phenomenon, originally used to describe the way people react to robotic design. Today it branches pretty much every nonhuman entity. I don’t feel like I can explain it any better than this website did, so here is their quote on the matter:
“The idea is that if one were to plot emotional response against similarity to human appearance and movement, the curve is not a sure, steady upward trend. Instead, there is a peak shortly before one reaches a completely human “look” but then a deep chasm plungest below neutrality into a strongly negative response before rebounding to a second peak where resemblance to humanity is complete.”
Talk about creepy!
Basically, the uncanny valley is the point at which people feel most uncomfortable with a humanoid subject, such as clowns, zombies, and humanoid robotics. The theory is that the human brain hits a roadblock and serious creepiness sneaks in.
Ayse Saygin, a professor at the UCSD, used fMRI technology to test this phenomenon. They showed twenty participants video clips of three actors moving. One was human, one was an android modeled after the human, and the third was the android stripped of humanlike form. Their hypothesis was that the uncanny valley may be caused by the brain’s predictions getting violated–an error in processing when what we expect is different than what we actually see.
The results showed that the network of the human brain that processes body movements is more active when someone watches an android compared to seeing the normal human and nonhuman robot. Saygin believes this could be because the brain is combining conflicting information.
Though the test group was small, the study suggests that there are legitimate changes in brain behavior when people experience the uncanny valley phenomenon. Saygin plans on doing more research with EEG to support her findings, so only time will tell.
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