iCub is able of standing up from a seat and balancing on its legs, while it...
iCub is able of standing up from a seat and balancing on its legs, while it senses the human interaction.
Source: Italian Institute of Technology

What is your attitude towards a humanoid robot?

The way humans interpret behavior of AI-endowed artificial agents, such as humanoid robots, depends on specific individual attitudes that can be detected from neural activity.

Researchers at IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology) demonstrated that people's bias towards robots, that is, attributing them intentionality or considering them as "mindless things", can be correlated with distinct brain activity patterns. The research results important for understanding the way humans can engage with robots, also considering their acceptance in healthcare applications and daily life.

The research study was carried out by IIT's lab "Social Cognition in Human-Robot Interaction" in Genova, coordinated by Agnieszka Wykowska, whose focus is understanding human social cognition in interaction with artificial agents, humanoid robots specifically. In addition, Wykowska's research line explores possible use of humanoids robots in the healthcare sector, by means of developing robot-assisted training protocols for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and other disorders where social skills are compromised. In 2016 Wykowska was awarded a European Research Council (ERC)'s grant for her "InStance" project which addresses the question of when and under what conditions people treat robots as intentional beings. That is, whether, in order to explain and interpret robot's behaviour, people refer to mental states such as beliefs or desires. The current research is a result of these investigations.

Humanoid robots are a unique category, as they resemble humans to some extent, and thus they might evoke the tendency to perceive them as intentional beings. On the other hand, people are perfectly aware that robots are artefacts, and thus, they should be treated as such. In a previous study, Wykowska and her research group observed that people differ in their likelihood of treating robots as intentional. Some individuals are more likely to attribute intentionality to robots; some are more likely to describe robots in a purely mechanistic manner. In this most recent study, researchers found that such difference in attitudes can be correlated with brain activity, measured by electroencephalogram (EEG), so that it is possible to predict people's bias in attributing intentionality towards robots, such as the IIT's iCub.

Agnieszka Wykowska focusing on the understanding of human social cognition in...
Agnieszka Wykowska focusing on the understanding of human social cognition in interaction with artificial agents, humanoid robots specifically such as iCub.
Source: Italian Institute of Technology

"Our findings are fascinating, as they show that it is possible to bridge a gap between a high-level philosophical concept and neuroscience data, namely, that attitudes towards technology can be linked to distinct brain activity patterns", Agnieszka Wykowska comments. "This study shows that people might have various attitudes, such anthropomorphizing robots to various extent, and those attitudes can actually be detected at the neural level".

Researchers tested 52 individuals with EEG. First, they recorded people's neural activity at rest, when participants were asked just to relax and let their mind wander freely. Subsequently, participants were involved in a task, where they needed to choose descriptions of various (visually presented) scenarios involving the iCub robot. The descriptions used "intentional/mentalistic" vocabulary (such as "iCub wants to draw something") or "mechanistic" vocabulary (such as "iCub optimizes grip for small objects").

Peoples bias towards robots, that is, attributing them intentionality or...
People's bias towards robots, that is, attributing them intentionality or considering them as "mindless things", can be correlated with distinct brain activity patterns.
Source: Italian Institute of Technology

Researchers found that even when the brain is not engaged in a particular experimental task, that is, at rest, there is a certain pattern of neural activity (in the beta frequency range of the EEG signal) that predicts people's bias in attributing intentionality toward the iCub humanoid robot. They also found differences in brain activity at the moment that participants interpreted specific iCub behaviours as having either a mechanistic or intentional explanation.

Apart from contributing to basic research, these results are important for understanding engagement with robots and can be predictive for the future acceptance of robots in healthcare applications and daily life.

The research was published in Science Robotics.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles

‘Uncanny Valley’: Brain network evaluates robot likeability

‘Uncanny Valley’: Brain network evaluates robot likeability

Scientists have identified mechanisms in the human brain that could help explain the the unsettling feeling we get from robots and virtual agents that are too human-like.

A smooth interaction between humans and robots?

A smooth interaction between humans and robots?

Making eye contact with a robot may have the same effect on people as eye contact with another person - interaction between humans and humanoid robots could be surprisingly smooth.

Robotic thread to clear stroke clots

Robotic thread to clear stroke clots

Engineers have developed a magnetically steerable, thread-like robot that can actively glide through narrow, winding pathways, such as the labrynthine vasculature of the brain.

Robopets can benefit health of elderly

Robopets can benefit health of elderly

Robotic pets that respond to human interaction can benefit the health and wellbeing of older people living in care home.

The robots that dementia caregivers want

The robots that dementia caregivers want

A team of scientists spent six months co-designing robots with informal caregivers for people with dementia, such as family members.

Customized “brains” for robots

Customized “brains” for robots

Researchers have developed an automated way to design customized hardware, or “brains,” that speeds up a robot’s operation.

What happens when your brain can't tell which way is up or down?

What happens when your brain can't tell which way is up or down?

Using virtual reality, researchers found that people differ in how much they are influenced by their visual environment.

Bionic touch does not remap the brain

Bionic touch does not remap the brain

Neuroscientists have demonstrated that the brain does not remap itself even with long-term bionic limb use, posing challenges for the development of realistic prosthetic limbs.

Robots encourage risk-taking behaviour in humans

Robots encourage risk-taking behaviour in humans

“The Robot made me do it” - research has shown robots can encourage humans to take greater risks in a simulated gambling scenario than they would if there was nothing to influence their behaviours.

Popular articles