Our eyes are not only important for vision, but also for communication. The gaze is one of the most important elements of social interaction, it allows us to understand the intentions of another person. But what happens when the eyes in front of us are not human? Italian researchers have studied the role of the gaze in human-robot interactions.
This study by the Italian Institute of Technology was published in the journal Science Robotics. It is part of a project called ‘InStance’, which aims to understand when and how humans perceive robots as beings with willpower. “Robots are becoming more and more involved in our daily lives,” says Agnieszka Wykowska the leading author of the study. It is important to understand how the human brain analyses the behavioral signals sent by robots.
In their work, the researchers wanted to understand whether the exchange of glances between a human and a robot could affect human neural activity. They note that gaze is an important tool for the brain in everyday activities: it provides information about other people’s intentions, decisions and goals. When someone looks at us, the brain reacts. But it also does so when we notice someone looking in a certain direction or at a certain place.
For the study, 40 people were recruited. They played a game of chicken with the robots. During this time, the researchers monitored the neurological activity in their brains. They found that the participants’ reactions were slower when the robot made eye contact when making decisions, suggesting additional cognitive effort. The author uses the example of a poker game played with a robot. “If the robot is looking at you when you have to decide on your next move, you will have a harder time making a decision than if the robot is not looking at you,” she suggests. Ignoring this gaze also requires extra effort. While people may get satisfaction from social interaction with robots, it affects the speed at which they make decisions. Agnieszka Wykowska and her team want to use these results to develop robots with behavior that is most appropriate for the context they are used in.
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