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The shaping of social perception by stimulus and knowledge cues to human animacy


Prinz,  Wolfgang
Department Psychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Cross, E. S., Ramsey, R., Liepelt, R., Prinz, W., & Hamilton, A. F. d. C. (2016). The shaping of social perception by stimulus and knowledge cues to human animacy. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 371(1686): 20150075. doi:10.1098/rstb.2015.0075.

Although robots are becoming an ever-growing presence in society, we do not hold the same expectations for robots as we do for humans, nor do we treat them the same. As such, the ability to recognize cues to human animacy is fundamental for guiding social interactions. We review literature that demonstrates cortical networks associated with person perception, action observation and mentalizing are sensitive to human animacy information. In addition, we show that most prior research has explored stimulus properties of artificial agents (humanness of appearance or motion), with less investigation into knowledge cues (whether an agent is believed to have human or artificial origins). Therefore, currently little is known about the relationship between stimulus and knowledge cues to human animacy in terms of cognitive and brain mechanisms. Using fMRI, an elaborate belief manipulation, and human and robot avatars, we found that knowledge cues to human animacy modulate engagement of person perception and mentalizing networks, while stimulus cues to human animacy had less impact on social brain networks. These findings demonstrate that self–other similarities are not only grounded in physical features but are also shaped by prior knowledge. More broadly, as artificial agents fulfil increasingly social roles, a challenge for roboticists will be to manage the impact of pre-conceived beliefs while optimizing human-like design.