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When robots get hurt, we feel it too

Washington: A team of scientists has found that we empathise with humanoid robots in a similar fashion as with other humans.

Researchers at Toyohashi University of Technology in collaboration with researchers at Kyoto University have found the first neurophysiological evidence of humans’ ability to empathize with robots in perceived pain and highlighted the difference in human empathy toward other humans and robots.

They performed electroencephalography (EEG) in 15 healthy adults who were observing pictures of either a human or robotic hand in painful or non-painful situations, such as a finger being cut by a knife. Event-related brain potentials for empathy toward humanoid robots in perceived pain were similar to those for empathy toward humans in pain. However, the beginning of the top-down process of empathy was weaker in empathy toward robots than toward humans. It may be caused by humans’ inability in taking a robot’s perspective.

The ascending phase of P3 (350-500 ms after the stimulus presentation) showed a positive shift in the observer for a human in pain in comparison with the no-pain condition, but not for a robot in perceived pain. Then, the difference between empathy toward humans and robots disappeared in the descending phase of P3 (500-650 ms), explains Michiteru Kitazaki, “The positive shift of P3 is considered as reflecting the top-down process of empathy. Its beginning phase seems related to the process of perspective taking, as was shown in a previous study.”

This study will contribute to the development of human-friendly robots whom we feel sympathy for and comfortable with.

The study appears in Scientific Reports. (ANI)