-- Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, April 24 (HealthDay News) -- A robot might tidy your
kitchen some day, but how will you
feelabout the mechanical member of the household?
Researchers say people's empathy for robots can be similar to
what they feel for other humans.
Functional MRI scans showed that volunteers had similar brain
function when they saw images of people or robots receiving
affection or being subjected to violence, according to a study
scheduled for presentation in June at the International
Communication Association's annual conference in London.
"One goal of current robotics research is to develop robotic companions that establish a long-term relationship with a human user, because robot companions can be useful and beneficial tools," study co-author Astrid Rosenthal-von der Putten, of the University of Duisburg Essen in Germany, said in an association news release.
"They could assist elderly people in daily tasks and enable them to live longer autonomously in their homes, help disabled people in their environments, or keep patients engaged during the rehabilitation process," said Rosenthal-von der Putten.
In one experiment, 40 participants watched videos of a small
dinosaur-shaped robot that was treated in a violent or gentle
manner. In a second experiment, 14 people watched videos showing a
human, a robot and an inanimate object treated in a violent or
Affection toward either a robot or person triggered comparable
brain function indicating similar emotional reactions. While the
participants' brain function suggested concern for a robot or
person subjected to abuse, differences in brain activity showed
they felt more concern for the person.
Little is known about how people react emotionally to robots.
Brain scans were used to assess the volunteers' feelings because
people often have difficulty or find it strange to talk about their
emotions regarding robots, the researchers explained.
But while a new technology is exciting at the beginning, the
effect wears off, especially when it comes to tasks like repetitive
exercise in rehabilitation, said Rosenthal-von der Putten. "The
development and implementation of uniquely humanlike abilities in
robots -- like theory of mind, emotion and empathy -- is considered
to have the potential to solve this dilemma," the researcher
Data and conclusions presented at meetings are typically
considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has more about
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