Robot gaze affects the human brain

Suhaib Ahmed

03rd Sep, 2021. 09:45 pm
Robot's gaze affecting the human brain

It has long been known that making eye contact with a robot can be a disturbing experience. Scientists even have a name for this feeling: the “uncanny valley”.

However, because of the researchers in Italy, people got to know that it’s more than just a feeling.

A team at the Istituto Italiano Di Tecnologia (IIT) in Genoa have revealed that how a robot’s gaze can trick us into thinking we are socially interacting and slow our decision-making ability.

Lead author of the research, Professor Agnieszka Wykowska published in the journal Science Robots, “Gaze is an extremely important social signal that we employ on a day-to-day basis when interacting with others,”

“The question is whether the robot gaze will evoke very similar mechanisms in the human brain as another human’s gaze would.”

The team asked forty volunteers to play a video game of “chicken”, where each player has to decide whether to allow a car to drive straight towards another car or to turn to avoid a collision, against a humanoid robot sitting opposite them.

Between rounds, players had to look at the robot, which would sometimes look back and other times look away.

In each scenario, the experts collected data on behaviour and neural activity via electroencephalography (EEG), which spots electrical activity in the brain.

Agnieszka said, “Our results show that, actually, the human brain processes the robot gaze as a social signal, and that signal has an impact on the way we’re making decisions, on the strategies we deploy in the game and also on our responses,”

“The mutual gaze of the robot affected decisions by delaying them, so humans were much slower in making the decisions in the game.”
The results have implications on where and how humanoid robots are deployed in future.

Agnieszka said, “Once we understand when robots elicit social attunement, then we can decide it which sort of context this is desirable and beneficial for humans and in which context this should not occur,”

As per the reports by the International Federation of Robotics, globally sales of professional service robots had already jumped 32% to $11.2 billion between 2018 and 2019.

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