Touching a robot can elicit physiological arousal in humans

April 5, 2016, International Communication Association
Pepper is described as an “engaging, friendly companion that can communicate with people through the most intuitive interface we know: voice, touch and emotions.” Credit: Aldebaran, SoftBank, Corp.

On the scale of the "uncanny valley," the humanoid robot registers a positive response with humans just before the dip into repulsion. Its resemblance hovers between C-3PO and Wall-E, a familiar but distinctly non-human robot. A seemingly natural human response to these robots would be to look at them as a friendly, non-threatening computer. Could these robots actually provoke more of an emotional response from humans? A recent study by researchers at Stanford University found that touching a robot's intimate areas elicited physiological arousal in humans.

Jamy Li, Wendy Ju, and Byron Reeves from Stanford University will present their findings at the 66th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association in Fukuoka, Japan. The researchers conducted an experiment using Aldebaran Robotics' NAO human-shaped robot. The robot was programmed to verbally instruct participants to touch 13 parts of its body. Participants were fitted with an Affectiva Q-Sensor on the fingers of their non-dominant hand. This measured skin conductance, a measure of physiological arousal, and reaction time of the participant.

The findings showed that when participants were instructed to touch the robot in areas that people usually do not touch, like the eyes or the buttocks, they were more emotionally aroused when compared to touching more accessible parts like the hands and neck. Participants also were more hesitant to touch these intimate parts based on the response times.

A large body of research in communication shows how touch is used as a social "glue" between people - building relationships and influencing trust. Not as much is known about between a person and a robot. Touch has been underexamined compared to other aspects of robots, such as its appearance and shape.

The experiment consisted of instructions spoken by the robot followed by 26 trials. Each trial had three parts. 1. Robot asks participant to touch it. 2. Participant touches robot's body part. 3. Robot teaches participant medical term for the body part. Credit: Jamy Li
"Our work shows that robots are a new form of media that is particularly powerful. It shows that people respond to robots in a primitive, social way," said Li. "Social conventions regarding touching someone else's private parts apply to a robot's body parts as well. This research has implications for both design and theory of artificial systems."

"Touching a Mechanical Body: Tactile Contact With Intimate Parts of a Human-Shaped Robot is Physiologically Arousing," by Jamy Li, Wendy Ju and Bryon Reeves; to be presented at the 66th Annual International Communication Association Conference, Fukuoka, Japan, 9-13 June 2016.

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10 comments

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Rosser
not rated yet Apr 05, 2016
People would probably respond to a blow-up doll in a similar way. Or anything else that looked vaguely humanoid. I don't find this research to be particularly interesting, novel, or worth whatever was paid for it.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (4) Apr 05, 2016
Ooooohhhhh, shiny >prong<

Saving throw vs. arousal at -3

Sorry, that was simply irresistible!

Meanwhile,

People would probably respond to a blow-up doll in a similar way. Or anything else that looked vaguely humanoid. I don't find this research to be particularly interesting, novel, or worth whatever was paid for it.
Wonder how long until they make robots for, errr, you know. :D
compose
Apr 07, 2016
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TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 09, 2016
Actually this study is about "emotional" arousal, not sexual one, you perverts
The article says

'physiological arousal in humans'

-not emotional. Are you trying to desexualize robots or something?

Here - touch this robot and tell me what you feel.
https://youtu.be/XYGzRB4Pnq8

-She's fully functional you know.
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 09, 2016
this study is about "emotional" arousal
@Zeph
to piggy back on Otto's post
1- from above
"Touching a Mechanical Body: Tactile Contact With Intimate Parts of a Human-Shaped Robot is Physiologically Arousing," by Jamy Li, Wendy Ju and Bryon Reeves
2- "Physiologically Arousing" - 1b: To stimulate sexual desire in
2. To give rise to (a feeling, for example); stir up
[that example taken because of the specific quote in the above "Tactile Contact With Intimate Parts"]
http://www.thefre...+arousal

3- if ya aint gonna read the content, why comment about it?
That means, the people felt embarrassed
it "may" mean embarrassment, but stemming from what type of arousal?
modern people would also be "embarrassed" to touch live people privates for a study as well, but that doesn't mean it doesn't elicit arousal for sexual purpose, does it?

.

it's fascinating that we humans anthropomorphize inanimate objects

victoryengineer
not rated yet Apr 10, 2016
The exact same responses would be elicited if the robot was replaced with a doll, or a picture. The robot is irrelevant. Too bad the folks from Stanford were unable to figure out the obvious.
compose
Apr 10, 2016
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TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Apr 10, 2016
Heh heh he said copious
Osiris1
not rated yet Apr 10, 2016
Once knew a hippie so zonked that his wife found him in the laundry room all 'aroused' by the light on his washing machine. You know...go 'round and round'. Wondered what happened to ole' Russ' from L.A. by way of the Bay area. Gooood at electronics even if given to wanderin' the Mexican desert in search of his 'pey. Now I know what he has been up to all these years. Maybe he will perfect it and Commander Data from Star Trek will have a sexy sister...haw...haw!
gfomitchev
not rated yet Apr 12, 2016
We are going to educated people in SWFL and tell about humanoid robots on a TED-like show talk on 18-th and 27-th of April.

George Fomitchev - founder of Endurance startup.

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