Uncanny Valley: Creepiness Gets Some Neuroscience
    By Hank Campbell | July 14th 2012 05:00 AM | 10 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Why do clowns freak us out?  And why are robots cute until they look too much like people, and then then they creep us out?

    It's our old friend the Uncanny Valley and it basically postulates that the more realistic something gets to a human likeness, the more repulsive it is.  I don't mean like realistic special effects as in "Wrath Of The Titans" - that giant, flaming lava hand of Chronos looks cool - but rather likeness when it comes to humanoids, be they zombies or robots.  

    The Uncanny Valley has long been known, but but finding that line has been experimental.  Technologists basically make things more and more realistic until people are creeped out and they compile statistics.  It is moderately interesting applied psychology for consumer research but not science.  However, now neuroscientists are on the trail, writes Elizabeth Landau on CNN.

    First, he is a graphical primer on the uncanny valley:

    The uncanny valley. Notice that if the object moves, the affinity or revulsion caused by the machine becomes much more pronounced. Photo Credit: AndroidScience.

    Landau writes about Ayse Saygin, professor at the University of California, San Diego, who found something interesting in the neuroscience of creepiness: "The network that normally processes your body movements is more active when you view an android," compared with a stripped-down robot or a human, which could be because the brain has to combine conflicting information.

    It's uncanny. And still creepy!  Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro. Link: The Guardian

    Is it because we know eerily realistic robots and most clowns look alive but we know they are not, and thus they play on our fear of death (or Jamaicans, in the case of voodoo zombies)? That's empathy, not science, but still worth considering.  

    Chris Rollins wrote about the uncanny valley being scaled by, you guess it, Japanese researchers.  Here is a video. Still too weird?  Or are people getting more and more accustomed as time, and realistic special effects, march on?

    H/T Mark Changizi


    Gerhard Adam
    It's our old friend the Uncanny Valley and it basically postulates that the more realistic something gets to a human likeness, the more repulsive it is.
    I don't buy it.  Far too much depends on context, so depending on what's motivating the human will also determine how "creeped" out they actually are.

    I would pretty well guarantee that if you make it about sex, the "uncanny valley" will disappear.
    If this fembot were hitting on some guy, I want to hear the argument about how "creeped" out the guy is.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Japanese guys, maybe.  You don't think that Geminoid is creepy?  Until they make Fembots that look and act like this, I am not persuaded:

    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but I don't think it's that specific, nor that most guys find it that creepy.

    Consider, while the movements might be awkward, creepy isn't what comes to mind.

    These images of dolls, speak for themselves.

    Yaahhhh ... transhumanism .. :) 
    Mundus vult decipi
    I can usually avoid these things. But hey, the dark Force is strong today, Luke.

    “Although the uncanny exists, the inherent, unavoidable dip (or valley) may be an illusion. Extremely abstract robots can be uncanny if the aesthetic is off, as can cosmetically atypical humans. . . However, if the aesthetic is right, any level of realism or abstraction can be appealing. If so, then avoiding or creating an uncanny effect just depends on the quality of the aesthetic design, regardless of the level of realism.”


    That covers so much ground it tells us almost anything other than 'it's up to individuals' which isn't true.  A lot of people were creeped out by 'The Polar Express' and it had everything to do with the realism.  Millions of people who never heard of the uncanny valley did not simultaneously describe it at random.
    Yeah, I know. I was just being, well, me.

    I thought this was particularly telling: "There were 25 participants, ranging in age from 18 to 77."
    Sample size problem anyone?

    What is your confidence interval?  
    Boy. I really got in over my head this time. Damned Dark Force anyhow.

    I, somehow, thought the confidence level was set up by the researcher. Whatever, I'm getting creeped out now.

    I was attempting to speak from the point of view of the researcher. I just messed up the structure, no quotation marks, etc.
    Gerhard Adam
    There was an interesting article that suggested part of the issue with the "uncanny valley" was when emotions were incongruous with the context.

    So it appears that if emotions appear to be present when they shouldn't be or vice verse, then we experience the discomfort.  This makes a certain amount of sense, because it also matches the bad feeling people have regarding our understanding of psychopaths [i.e. individuals that don't seem to experience any emotional connection to their victims].  It has certainly been part of the horror movie formula, where there seems to be an emotional disconnect to victims.

    The flip side of that also occurs in horror movies when we have cars or houses [or other inanimate objects] that can act on their own volition.  The notion that objects that shouldn't have emotions may be able to act on them makes us uneasy.  It's somewhat similar to the problem encountered in 2001 when HAL begins to experience his conflicts.

    With HAL it's even more interesting because one can clearly sense that there are "emotions" being expressed, and yet the voice totally lacks the inflection necessary for that expression.

    Mundus vult decipi