We Feel Empathy for Robots (Even if They Don’t Look Human)

Stefan Fincken
June 4th 2013

Although this information might not come as a surprise to you, it's now scientifically proven that humans feel empathy for robots. Researchers from the University of Duisberg Essen in Germany compared the brain function of people viewing images of violence and affection being inflicted on humans and robots and found similar results.

Watching endearing animations like Wall-E, you probably felt bad for the little "guy" when things weren't going in his favor. Seeing how "the Iron Giant" sacrificed himself to destroy a nuclear missile might've even brought a tear to your eye.

In the researchers' studies, videos of a dinosaur-like robot that was being treated in a violent way raised physiological arousal and induced a more negative feeling from the 40 participants than the same robot being treated with affection. A second study involving 14 participants was done using fMRI (functional magnetic-resonance imaging) to scan the brain activity of human-robot interaction and compare them to human-human interaction. Videos showing affectionate interaction showed similar brain activation. The videos with violent interaction showed differences in neural activity, with stronger activation while watching the human being abused.

Of course, if the robot had been more human-like instead of dinosaur-like, the similarities in brain activity might have been increased. Should humanoid robots completely climb out of the uncanny valley, our empathy towards them might match our empathy towards other humans.

Via Live Science.

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