Social Robots

A European Research Council funded Social Neuroscience Research Project

Mechanisms & Consequences of Attributing Socialness to Artificial Agents

Understanding how we perceive and interact with others is a core challenge of social cognition research. This challenge is poised to intensify in importance as the ubiquity of artificial intelligence and the presence of humanoid robots in society grows. By innovatively combining psychology, neuroscience and robotics, the SOCIAL ROBOTS project helps prepare us for this future by:

  1.  establishing a new approach for understanding how the human brain processes and responds to interactive robots;
  2.  delineating the factors influencing how representations of robots and humans are shared at brain and behavioural levels; and
  3.  exploring how these findings inform the now-rapid development of social robots.

To achieve these aims, the team will first investigate how young adults perceive and interact with humans compared to robots, with particular focus on the impact of a robot's physical features and the amount of time a person spends interacting with a robot. One question we will be looking to answer in particular is the extent to which brain regions mediating social interaction with humans also supportinteractions with our mechanical friends.

Next, to test the role of experience-dependent plasticity on social cognition, we plan to assess how brain and behavioural flexibility toward robots manifests among young children and older adults.

In the final phase of the project, the team will explore cultural influences on shared representations of humans and robots by extending the first project phase to Japan, the world’s most robotics-rich nation.

The experiments of SOCIAL ROBOTS project are designed to test the "like me" hypothesis, which is a dominant theory of social cognition positing that we have evolved to seek out, interact and affiliate with other agents that look, move, or think in a similar way to ourselves. The results yielded by the SOCIAL ROBOTS project are expected to lead to a novel conception of the neurocognitive architecture supporting human-robot interaction. Neuroimaging and behavioural measures will offer detailed and nuanced insights into how brain mechanisms supporting social engagement with people are used when interacting with robots, and how different kinds of experience (e.g., training, lifespan, cultural) influence such engagement. The planned studies and those generated during the project will see the SOCIAL ROBOTS team bridging social cognition, neuroscience and robotics to better understand how humans and machines might bring out the best in each other as our lives become ever more intwined with robots.


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