Perception Journal Club

Monkey visual behavior falls into the uncanny valley (2009) Shawn A. Steckenfinger and Asif A. Ghazanfar in PNAS

Very realistic human-looking robots or computer avatars tend to elicit negative feelings in human observers. This phenomenon is known as the ‘‘uncanny valley’’ response. It is hypothesized that this uncanny feeling is because the realistic synthetic characters elicit the concept of ‘‘human,’’ but fail to live up to it. That is, this failure generates feelings of unease due to character traits falling outside the expected spectrum of everyday social experience. These unsettling emotions are thought to have an evolutionary origin, but tests of this hypothesis have not been forthcoming. To bridge this gap, we presented monkeys with unrealistic and realistic synthetic monkey faces, as well as real monkey faces, and measured whether they preferred looking at one type versus the others (using looking time as a measure of preference). To our surprise, monkey visual behavior fell into the uncanny valley: They looked longer at real faces and unrealistic synthetic faces than at realistic synthetic faces.