Friday, November 06, 2009

Like us, monkeys don't like computer faces that are 'too real'.

Synthetic agents such as androids or computer-animated characters can elicit responses from us (mainly of positive emotional valence) similar to those elicited by real humans as long as they have a low resemblance to humans. But, if these agents become too realistic, we find them unsettling. This feeling of eeriness is known as the “uncanny valley” and is associated with entities that elicit the concept of a human, but do meet all of the requirements for being one. Steckenfinger and Ghazanfar find that monkeys apparently have the same kind of response.
Very realistic human-looking robots or computer avatars tend to elicit negative feelings in human observers. This phenomenon is known as the “uncanny valley” response. It is hypothesized that this uncanny feeling is because the realistic synthetic characters elicit the concept of “human,” but fail to live up to it. That is, this failure generates feelings of unease due to character traits falling outside the expected spectrum of everyday social experience. These unsettling emotions are thought to have an evolutionary origin, but tests of this hypothesis have not been forthcoming. To bridge this gap, we presented monkeys with unrealistic and realistic synthetic monkey faces, as well as real monkey faces, and measured whether they preferred looking at one type versus the others (using looking time as a measure of preference). To our surprise, monkey visual behavior fell into the uncanny valley: They looked longer at real faces and unrealistic synthetic faces than at realistic synthetic faces.

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