New York: Humans subconsciously mimic the facial expressions of android robots, a new study has found.
Researchers observed how 23 undergraduate students interacted with a robot made to look like physicist Albert Einstein to explore the phenomenon of facial mimicry.
Einstein, a lifelike android, has a humanlike skin and the ability to stretch its face into angry or happy expressions.
The students spontaneously imitated the android’s facial expressions even though the participants knew the robot was artificial and even though they felt uncomfortable around it, said Piotr Winkielman, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, who was involved in the study.
This shows the power of mimicry and demonstrates the possibility that humans can interact with an artificial being in a natural way, he said.
“Modern technology can now produce androids that not only look like humans, but also move their faces like humans, and thus can ‘compel’ humans to synchronise with them,” Winkielman told ‘Live Science’.
“There are all sorts of attempts now to bring in humanoid robots into health care, [the] service industry and regular homes. This study shows that these modern androids can, via mimicry, create a form of ‘relation’ with other human beings,” Winkielman added.
In the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, the students first rated how “creepy” they found Einstein, how comfortable they felt around it and how humanlike it appeared.
The researchers then observed and analysed how the students interacted with the robot.
Regardless of how they felt about the robot, the majority of the students mimicked Einstein’s smiles and pouts without any initial prompts or instructions to do so.
In contrast, during a control study in which Einstein appeared on a television screen, only the students who reported the robot as “lifelike” mimicked its facial expressions; they did this despite previously reporting that Einstein made them feel uneasy.