Researchers measured the brain activity of 20 survey participants, who each played a simple game against four opponents of varying degrees of human-likeness.
Opponents were: a regular computer notebook, a functionally designed Lego-robot, the anthropomorphic robot named BARTHOC Jr., and a human.
Although all opponents were instructed to play in a similar manner, participants reported experiencing the most enjoyment when interacting with a more human-like opponent.
The researchers expect participants’ perceptions to reflect a tendency to attribute rational decision-making abilities and strategy to human-like opponents.
“This is intriguing as intuitively one would never claim that machines find real own decisions,” said Sören Krach, a psychologist at the RWTH Aachen University.
“From a rather philosophical point of view, I would argue that humans always tend to search for explanations,” he said. “Participants were unknowingly confronted with random sequences of response decisions but intuitively searched for a logical strategy.”
“This was, as we believe, partly triggered by the anthropomorphic [human-like] design of the game partners and the abstract social interaction. Treating game partners as non-human would rather induce a feeling of dissonance,” he said.
When also asked to estimate the intelligence of their opponents, participants demonstrated a greater regard for more human-like opponents.
Krach described intelligence as a property of the mind that encompasses the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn.
Movement and facial attributes also were identified as physical traits that are commonly perceived to be human-like.
The researchers suggest that robots performing social roles, such as nurse or caretaker, to be designed with human-like features to be most successful.
“Recent research proves that the more social a situation is the more human-like features are demanded by the subjects,” Krach said.
“If the robot works within a factory where there is has no direct contact to human beings the shape does not matter. However, if the robot takes over the role of a nurse or a caretaker it would matter,” he said.
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