A recently published study has added to a growing body of evidence that human beings will readily empathize with human-like robots.
Researchers from Toyohashi University of Technology in Japan showed 15 volunteers 56 different color photographs from a first-person perspective depicting either a human hand or a human-shaped robot hand in a variety of painful and non-painful situations. The photos included pictures of a knife cutting a human finger or the robot finger and pictures of the knife at a safe distance from the human or robot hand. The researchers monitored the volunteers' neurological reactions to these photos using electroencephalography devices, and they found the human volunteers had similar empathic neural responses to pictures of both the human hand and the robot hand being harmed.
The researchers attributed this response to the fact that the robot hand resembled a human hand. "Humans can attribute humanity to robots and feel their pain because the basic shape of the robot hand in the present study was the same as that of the human hand," they say.
The team plans to continue its research by determining if empathic responses will change when volunteers are presented with images of less human-like robot hands.
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