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Study: Touching a robot can induce arousal in humans

Psychological research has revealed the significance of touch to promoting social cohesion -- forging relationships and building trust.

By
Brooks Hays
Study participants experience heightened physiological arousal when touching more intimate parts of a robot's body. Photo by Stanford University
Study participants experience heightened physiological arousal when touching more intimate parts of a robot's body. Photo by Stanford University

FUKUOKA, Japan, April 5 (UPI) -- What happens when humans touch a robot? What happens when humans touch a robot in intimate areas? Researchers at Stanford University say the answers to those questions can help us understand how we relate to humanoids.

In a recent study, researchers showed that humans experience "physiological arousal" when touching the intimate parts of a humanoid robot.

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The robot was programmed to instruct study participants to touch 13 different regions of its body. An Affectiva Q-Sensor on the participants' fingers measured reaction time and skin conductance response, or electrodermal activity -- a signature of physiological arousal.

The human participants experienced a heightened emotional response and conductance when touching more intimate portions like the eyes or buttocks, as compared to less intimate parts like the head or hands.

Psychological research has revealed the significance of touch to promoting social cohesion -- forging relationships and building trust. Robotics engineers believe touch can help robots become more relatable.

"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," Jamy Li, Stanford researcher, said in a news release. "Social conventions regarding touching someone else's private parts apply to a robot's body parts as well. This research has implications for both robot design and theory of artificial systems."

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Li and her colleagues Wendy Ju and Byron Reeves are preparing to present their research to attendees at this summer's 66th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association in Fukuoka, Japan.

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