About the almost-realistic ‘uncanny valley’

Research abstract: Monkey visual behavior falls into the “uncanny valley”

Very realistic human-looking robots or computer avatars tend to elicit negative feelings in human observers.

Monkey visual behavior falls into the uncanny valley (2)

This phenomenon is known as the “uncanny valley” response. It is hypothesized that this uncanny feeling is because the realistic synthetic characters elicit the concept of “human,” but fail to live up to it. That is, this failure generates feelings of unease due to character traits falling outside the expected spectrum of everyday social experience.

These unsettling emotions are thought to have an evolutionary origin, but tests of this hypothesis have not been forthcoming.

To bridge this gap, we presented monkeys with unrealistic and realistic synthetic monkey faces, as well as real monkey faces, and measured whether they preferred looking at one type versus the others (using looking time as a measure of preference).

To our surprise, monkey visual behavior fell into the uncanny valley: They looked longer at real faces and unrealistic synthetic faces than at realistic synthetic faces.

See the full research paper here (pdf)

Shawn A Steckenfinger and Asif A Ghazanfar, Neuroscience Institute, Departments of Psychology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540. Communicated by Charles G Gross, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, September 3, 2009 (received for review July 19, 2009)

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