Virtual humans appear to influence ethical decisions in gender-specific ways

May 13, 2010
Appearance, motion quality and other characteristics of computer-generated characters may impact the moral and ethical decisions of their viewers, according to a study by informatics researchers at Indiana University. Image: Courtesy of Karl MacDorman

(PhysOrg.com) -- Virtual humans are increasingly taking on roles that were once reserved for real humans. A study by researchers at the Indiana University School of Informatics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis explores how appearance, motion quality and other characteristics of computer-generated characters may impact the moral and ethical decisions of their viewers.

The research, published in the June 2010 issue of the journal Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments found that the decisions of men were strongly affected by presentational aspects of the simulated woman, while women's decisions were not.

"Much evidence has accumulated showing that can have a profound impact on human judgment in ways we are hardly aware of and this research extends that work to the digital realm. This work demonstrates that presentational factors influence people's decisions, including decisions of moral and ethical consequence, presumably without their realizing it," said study co-author Karl F. MacDorman, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Program at the School of Informatics. He is also an adjunct associate professor with the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI.

In the study, a simulated female character presented participants with an related to sexual conduct and marital infidelity. The character's human photorealism and motion quality were varied in four ways. The changes had no significant effect on female viewers, while male viewers were much more likely to rule against the character when her visual appearance was obviously computer generated and her movements were jerky.

"Although it is difficult to generalize, I think the general trend is that both men and women are more sympathetic to real human characters than to simulated human characters. So I think the women were mainly influenced by the itself, and they may have felt more empathetic concern for the character, because they could better imagine what it would be like to be in the same situation," said MacDorman.

The fact that males and females react differently to changes in a character's visual presentation could impact the design of future systems created to facilitate medical decision-making, crime reenactments and many other scenarios.

"The 'human interface' is the most natural interface for us to use for communication, because it is the interface we know best. There are many potential applications for simulated human characters as a communication interface. As we come to a better scientific understanding of how nonverbal behavior can be used to influence people without their knowing it, we will also need to consider how it might be exploited by humans who create virtual characters," said MacDorman.

"If it is used to manipulate people into taking a course of action they might not otherwise take, such as buying more products or adhering to medical or behavioral advice, that clearly raises ethical concerns. Technology should not be used in ways that diminish human autonomy," MacDorman concluded.

Explore further: Laptop used for first US presidential email finds a buyer

More information: A copy of the paper can be found at www.macdorman.com/kfm/writings/pubs/MacDorman2010ImpactPresentationDecision.pdf

Provided by Indiana University School of Medicine

5 /5 (1 vote)

Related Stories

Television shows can affect racial judgments

Feb 20, 2008

A new study published in the journal Human Communication Research reveals that viewers can be influenced by exposure to racial bias in the media, even without realizing it.

Like humans, monkeys fall into the 'uncanny valley'

Oct 13, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Princeton University researchers have come up with a new twist on the mysterious visual phenomenon experienced by humans known as the "uncanny valley." The scientists have found that monkeys ...

Recommended for you

Freight train industry to miss safety deadline

Apr 16, 2014

The U.S. freight railroad industry says only one-fifth of its track will be equipped with mandatory safety technology to prevent most collisions and derailments by the deadline set by Congress.

Gaza cops trade bullets for laser-tech in training

Apr 14, 2014

Security forces in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip are using technology to practice shooting on laser simulators, saving money spent on ammunition in the cash-strapped Palestinian territory.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

El_Nose
not rated yet May 13, 2010
Although it is difficult to generalize, I think the general trend is that both men and women are more sympathetic to real human characters than to simulated human characters. So I think the women were mainly influenced by the moral dilemma itself, and they may have felt more empathetic concern for the character, because they could better imagine what it would be like to be in the same situation," said MacDorman.


OR --- men are visual creatures and always have been and making the character jerky and less realistic helped them focus on the problem instead of the production method.

More news stories

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Venture investments jump to $9.5B in 1Q

Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into an increasing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday.

White House updating online privacy policy

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.