A team of researchers in Instituto Italiano Di Tecnologia (IIT) has discovered that robots can affect a human’s brain processes by their gaze, sending social signals similar to human-to-human interaction.
Through an experiment wherein 40 human volunteers played a video game of “chicken” against a humanoid robot, researchers have concluded that the robot’s gaze sitting opposite the human player affected the volunteer’s decision process by delaying them.
“Our results show that, actually, the human brain processes the robot gaze as a social signal, and that signal has an impact on the way we’re making decisions, on the strategies we deploy in the game, and also on our responses,” says Professor Agnieszka Wykowska, the lead author of the conducted research.
The researchers of the experiment were also able to collect data on behavior and neural activity by way of electroencephalography (EEG). This allowed them to detect any electrical activity in the volunteer’s brain as a result of the humanoid robot’s gaze. Through the data collected and the activity seen, the findings suggest that the human brain processes the robot’s gaze as a strong social signal that affected the response time, decision threshold, and even choice strategies and sensitivity outcomes of the volunteer.
This experiment and its findings can be used as a basis for how humanoid robots can be used within society and for the benefit of humans. “Once we understand when robots elicit social attunement, then we can decide which sort of context this is desirable and beneficial for humans and in which context this should not occur,” says Wykowska.
With more robots entering various sectors and industries in society such as hospitals and restaurants, determining boundaries and the extent of influence between human-to-robot interaction are indeed important to achieve a safe but beneficial coexistence.