New Experiment Shows How Human Brain Activity Changes When We Look At Robotic Eyes – And The Results Are Freaky


Have you ever walked down a dimly lit street after dark? What if, while walking down that street, you feel like someone is following you or constantly watching you. It would most definitely make you change your course of action and opt for a more swift and cautious way to get out of there. The same is the impact if a robot is gazing down at you. Curious?

In recent research, human players were pitched against robots, and the results were startling. At the time of decision making, the robots looked at their human opponents, which made them change their thought processes. The same was reflected in their neural activity recorded by electroencephalography (EEG) during the experiment.

“If the robot looks at you during the moment you need to decide on the next move, you will have a more difficult time in making a decision,” stated cognitive neuroscientist Agnieszka Wykowska from the Italian Institute of Technology.

“Your brain will also need to employ effortful and costly processes to try to ‘ignore’ that gaze of the robot.”

In a game of chicken in which the robots and humans were pitched against each other, the decision time of humans was more when the humanoid iCub, which was playing against them, met their glance. The reactions were monitored just before the impact of the colliding cars in the game. On the other hand, the time taken to decide was lesser when the humanoid did not meet the gaze. The result was almost the same in all the 40 participants.

“In line with our hypothesis, the delayed responses within-subjects after mutual gaze may suggest that mutual gaze entailed a higher cognitive effort, for example, by eliciting more reasoning about iCub’s choices, or higher degree of suppression of the (potentially distracting) gaze stimulus, which was irrelevant to the task,” the researchers explained in their paper.

The iCub replicates a human; therefore, it triggers our usual attentional processes. This is most definitely an indication of what will come as robots get more common in our day-to-day lives.

“Robots will be more and more present in our everyday life,” Wykowska says.

“That is why it is important to understand not only the technological aspects of robot design but also the human side of the human-robot interaction… how the human brain processes behavioral signals conveyed by robots.”

The research’s findings were shown in Science Robotics.


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