Social robots and people interact smoothly

social robot

According to a new Research by Tampere University in Finland, making eye contact with a social robot might have the identical effect on individuals as eye contact with another person. The results predict that interaction between people and humanoid robots will be surprisingly smooth.

With the rapid progress in robotics, it is expected that individuals will increasingly interact with so called social bots in the future. Regardless of the artificiality of social robot, people appear to react to them socially and ascribe humane features to them. For example, people may perceive unique qualities – like knowledgeability, sociability, and likeability – in robots based on how they look and/or behave.

Previous studies have managed to shed light on people’s perceptions of social robots and their traits, however, the very fundamental question of what sort of automatic responses social robot predominate in us people has remained unanswered. Does interacting with a social robot cause similar reactions as interacting with another individual?

Researchers in Tampere University researched the matter by analyzing the physiological reactions that eye contact with a social robot evokes. Eye contact has been chosen as the topic of the research for 2 big reasons. First, previous results have demonstrated that particular emotional and attention-related physiological responses are stronger when people see the gaze of the other person directed to them in contrast to seeing with their averted gaze. Secondly, directing the gaze either towards or away from someone else is a sort of behavior related to regular interaction that current social robots are quite naturally capable of.

From the analysis, the research participants were face to face Another person or even a humanoid robot. The individual and the robot looked either directly in the participant and left eye contact or averted their gaze. At the exact same period, the participants’ skin conductance, which reflects the action of the autonomous nervous systems, the electrical activity of the cheek muscle reflecting positive affective reactions, and heart rate deceleration, which indicates the orienting of attention, were measured.

The results demonstrated that all the above-mentioned physiological responses were stronger in the case of eye contact in contrast to averted gaze when shared with both another person and a social robot. Eye contact with the robot along with another human concentrated the participants’ focus, increased their degree of stimulation and elicited a favorable emotional response.

“Our results indicate that the non-linguistic, interaction-regulating cues of social robots can affect humans in the same way as similar cues presented by other people. Interestingly, we respond to signals that have evolved over the course of evolution to regulate human interaction even when these signals are transmitted by robots. Such evidence allows us to anticipate that as robot technology develops, our interaction with the social robots of the future may be surprisingly seamless,” says doctoral researcher Helena Kiilavuori.

“The results were quite astonishing for us, too, because our previous results have shown that eye contact only elicits the reactions we perceived in this study when the participants know that another person is actually seeing them. For example, in a video conference, eye contact with the person on the screen does not cause these reactions if the participant knows that his or her own camera is off, and the other person is unable to see him or her. The fact that eye contact with a robot produces such reactions indicates that even though we know the robot is a lifeless machine, we treat it instinctively as if it could see us. As if it had a mind which looked at us,” says Professor of Psychology Jari Hietanen, director of the project.

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