ESRC interdisciplinary studentship: Combining dance and robotics to study emotion perception

The Project

The overarching aim of this PhD project is to develop a library of naturalistic emotional movements generated by expert dancers, and then implement and test the communicative value of these movements in artificial agents in naturalistic social settings. This studentship is richly interdisciplinary in nature, drawing from the social sciences, performing arts and engineering to tackle a major challenge that falls under the remit of the RCUK Digital Economy theme: namely, to improve artificial agents’ social acceptance and usability by providing them with emotionally expressive behaviours that are instantly readable by human interaction partners. This project comprises three main studies, with the first two primarily involving social sciences research (with performing arts elements as well), and the third study combining knowledge generated from the social sciences and performing arts with computing science. For the first third of the project, the student will work closely with the Scottish National Ballet and motion tracking technology to create and validate a rich library of emotions expressed via bodily movement. Next, the student will develop expertise with quantitative and qualitative behavioural methods (including eye tracking, self-report measures of affective valence), as well as working with different participant samples (expert and naïve dancers) to further identify how emotion is expressed via bodily movements, and which elements of a body in motion convey the most meaningful information about a mover’s emotion. The final third of the project applies insights gained from the first two parts to the computing science and robotics world, by implementing insights gained into the movements and behaviour of physically present robots and virtual representations of avatars. Together, the project provides an ideal and exciting opportunity to train a PhD student who is equipped with the theoretical and technical skills to work between the social sciences, arts, and technology.

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New paper: From automata to animate beings: the scope and limits of attributing socialness to artificial agents

Hortensius, R. and Cross, E. S. (in press), From automata to animate beings: the scope and limits of attributing socialness to artificial agents. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. DOI:10.1111/nyas.13727

Abstract: Understanding the mechanisms and consequences of attributing socialness to artificial agents has important implications for how we can use technology to lead more productive and fulfilling lives. Here, we integrate recent findings on the factors that shape behavioral and brain mechanisms that support social interactions between humans and artificial agents. We review how visual features of an agent, as well as knowledge factors within the human observer, shape attributions across dimensions of socialness. We explore how anthropomorphism and dehumanization further influence how we perceive and interact with artificial agents. Based on these findings, we argue that the cognitive reconstruction within the human observer is likely to be far more crucial in shaping our interactions with artificial agents than previously thought, while the artificial agent’s visual features are possibly of lesser importance. We combine these findings to provide an integrative theoretical account based on the “like me” hypothesis, and discuss the key role played by the Theory‐of‐Mind network, especially the temporal parietal junction, in the shift from mechanistic to social attributions. We conclude by highlighting outstanding questions on the impact of long‐term interactions with artificial agents on the behavioral and brain mechanisms of attributing socialness to these agents