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Empathizing with Robots

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As robots enter domestic environments in greater numbers it is important that people are able to interact with them in a natural way to ensure their acceptance and use. Natural interaction means allowing people the ability to communicate with robots in similar ways to how they communicate with other people. One of the most basic forms of human-human communication is conveyed via nonverbal expressions of empathy. Might people be able to empathize with robots who make similar types of expressions? And, further, might people empathize with robots shown in distress?

I will describe two recent experiments that address these questions. The first was a pilot study (n=6) where subjects interacted with a robot that mimicked their expressions in real time. The second was a larger experiment (n=120) where subjects viewed films depicting humans mistreating robots. Results from both studies show that not only do people empathize with robots, but that the more anthropomorphic a robot appears and behaves the stronger the empathetic response. This has important implications for social robot design and helps to inform recent robot ethics quandaries.

Image licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com

This talk is part of the Rainbow Interaction Seminars series.

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