New research out of Germany suggests that humans look at robots as being more than just soulless pieces of hardware. In one study, nearly all the 40 (human) participants who watched a violent video of a robotic dinosaur being tortured reacted with distress. In the second study, which employed functional magnetic resonance imaging, participants were shown videos of both robots and humans being treated affectionately and then cruelly. Study subjects had virtually identical neural activation patterns in the limbic brain when robots were treated with affection as when the humans were, researchers will report in June at the annual conference of the International Communication Association in London. They also responded with similar levels of distress to the abuse videos, although they still showed greater reactions to the human mistreatment than the robot abuse. Ultimately, this type of research can teach scientists how to build robots that we can more fully identify with and even deeply trust with tasks such as preparing our food and teaching our children.
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