A neurocognitive investigation of the impact of socializing with a robot on empathy for pain

Cross, E. S. , Riddoch, K. A., Pratts, J., Titone, S., Chaudhury, B. and Hortensius, R. (2019) A neurocognitive investigation of the impact of socializing with a robot on empathy for pain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 374(1771), 20180034. (doi:10.1098/rstb.2018.0034) (PMID:30852995)

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Abstract

To what extent can humans form social relationships with robots? In the present study, we combined functional neuroimaging with a robot socializing intervention to probe the flexibility of empathy, a core component of social relationships, towards robots. Twenty-six individuals underwent identical fMRI sessions before and after being issued a social robot to take home and interact with over the course of a week. While undergoing fMRI, participants observed videos of a human actor or a robot experiencing pain or pleasure in response to electrical stimulation. Repetition suppression of activity in the pain network, a collection of brain regions associated with empathy and emotional responding, was measured to test whether socializing with a social robot leads to greater overlap in neural mechanisms when observing human and robotic agents experiencing pain or pleasure. In contrast to our hypothesis, functional region-of-interest analyses revealed no change in neural overlap for agents after the socializing intervention. Similarly, no increase in activation when observing a robot experiencing pain emerged post-socializing. Whole-brain analysis showed that, before the socializing intervention, superior parietal and early visual regions are sensitive to novel agents, while after socializing, medial temporal regions show agent sensitivity. A region of the inferior parietal lobule was sensitive to novel emotions, but only during the pre-socializing scan session. Together, these findings suggest that a short socialization intervention with a social robot does not lead to discernible differences in empathy towards the robot, as measured by behavioural or brain responses. We discuss the extent to which long-term socialization with robots might shape social cognitive processes and ultimately our relationships with these machines. This article is part of the theme issue ‘From social brains to social robots: applying neurocognitive insights to human–robot interaction’.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the European Research Council to ESC (H2020-ERC-2015-StG-67720-SOCIAL ROBOTS), and ESRC 1+3 Industrial Strategy studentship funding to KAR/ESC.
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Cross, Professor Emily and Chaudhury, Mrs Bishakha and Hortensius, Dr Ruud
Authors: Cross, E. S., Riddoch, K. A., Pratts, J., Titone, S., Chaudhury, B., and Hortensius, R.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology
Journal Name:Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Publisher:The Royal Society
ISSN:0962-8436
ISSN (Online):1471-2970
Published Online:11 March 2019
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2019 The Authors
First Published:First published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 374(1771): 20180034
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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