cSCAN Rounds

Examining social cognition during human-robot interaction

In daily lives, we need to predict and understand others’ behaviour in order to efficiently navigate through our social environment. When making predictions about what others are going to do next, we refer to their mental states, such as beliefs or intentions. That is, we adopt the intentional stance towards others. At the dawn of a new era, in which robots might soon be among us at homes and offices, one needs to ask whether (or when) we adopt the intentional stance also towards robots. In our research, we examine what behavioural characteristics of an agent induce adopting the intentional stance and whether adopting the intentional stance facilitates engagement of mechanisms of social cognition in interaction. We use methods of cognitive neuroscience and experimental psychology in naturalistic protocols in which humans interact with the humanoid robot iCub. Here, I will present results of several experiments in which we examined the impact of various parameters of robot social behavior on the mechanisms of social cognition and the likelihood of adopting the intentional stance. We examined whether mutual gaze, gaze-contingent robot behavior, or human-likeness of movements influence engagement of mechanisms of social cognition. Our results show an interesting interaction between more “social” aspects of robot behavior and fundamental processes of human cognition. The results will be discussed in the context of several general questions that need to be addressed, such as, the societal impact of robots towards whom we attune socially or clinical applications of social robots.