Previous surveys have been able to shed light on people’s perceptions of social robots and their characteristics, but the very central question of what kind of automatic reactions social robots evoke in us humans has remained unanswered. Does interacting with a robot cause similar reactions as interacting with another human?
The team chose eye contact as the topic of the study for two major reasons. First, previous results have shown that certain emotional and attention-related physiological responses are stronger when people see the gaze of another person directed to them compared to seeing their averted gaze. Second, directing the gaze either towards or away from another person is a type of behaviour related to normal interaction that even current social robots are quite naturally capable of.
“Our results indicate that the non-linguistic, interaction-regulating cues of social robots can affect humans in the same way as similar cues presented by other people. Interestingly, we respond to signals that have evolved over the course of evolution to regulate human interaction even when these signals are transmitted by robots. Such evidence allows us to anticipate that as robot technology develops, our interaction with the social robots of the future may be surprisingly seamless,” said doctoral researcher Helena Kiilavuori.