Touching man-like robot can stir emotions in humans

New York Robots having close resemblance with humanoid robot movie characters like C-3PO and Wall-E, which are seen as “friendly, non-threatening computers”, can evoke emotional response from humans, a study has found.

In an experiment, researchers at Stanford University used a human-shaped robot which was programmed to verbally instruct study participants to touch 13 parts of its body.

Participants were fitted with an Affectiva Q-Sensor on the fingers of their non-dominant hand. This measured skin conductance, a measure of physiological arousal, and reaction time of the participant.

The findings, which will be presented in June at the 66th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association in Fukuoka, Japan, showed that when participants were instructed to touch the robot in areas that people usually do not touch, like the eyes or the buttocks, they were more emotionally aroused when compared to touching more accessible parts like the hands and neck.

Participants also were more hesitant to touch these intimate parts based on the response times.

“Our work shows that robots are a new form of media that is particularly powerful. It shows that people respond to robots in a primitive, social way,” said Stanford researcher Jamy Li.

“Social conventions regarding touching someone else’s private parts apply to a robot’s body parts as well. This research has implications for both robot design and theory of artificial systems,” Li added.