How do children think about and interact with humanlike robots?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Discovery Center

    Robots intended for social contexts (e.g., robotic tutors, home assistants, etc.) are being designed with increasingly humanlike appearances to help improve their interactions with people. However, previous research has shown that adults particularly dislike highly humanlike robots – an effect known as the “uncanny valley”. In this study, we are interested in whether children show similar preferences for how robots are designed. We are specifically interested in how a robot’s appearance affects whether or not, and the ways in which, children will think about and interact with it.

    In this study, children are shown several photographs depicting both actual humans and robots of varying similarity to a human. Children will choose how long to look at each one and/or rate which photographs they like the best and least. We are interested in determining whether the degree of human similarity in the robots’ appearances affects children’s behavior in a similar way to adults. We are also interested in how the “uncanny valley” effect develops during childhood.

    This research will help us better understand how the uncanny valley emerges over time, which will in turn help us to design better robots.

    This research is conducted at the Museum of Science, Boston by Dr. Paul Muentener (, Dr. Heather Urry (, and Megan Strait (, researchers at Tufts University

        » Cognitive Development Lab at Tufts University

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Tech Imitating Life

    Visit the RoboBees exhibit (outside the Theatre of Electricity on the 1st floor of the Blue Wing), With your group, make some observations about these robots. How much does a robobee look like a bee? Talk about what bees do for humans (pollination), and how bees interact with flowers. Will the flower care if a Robobee doesn’t look exactly like a bee? Would this method of robotics work with other animals or organisms for similar purposes?

    Now check out the RoboCheetah exhibit. Does this robot look more or less like its real life model (compared to RoboBees)? In what ways might making a robot that mimics a large mammal be more difficult than creating one that mimics a bee?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Movie Night

    Computer animation has made great progress in the last couple of decades. Hold movie nights with your family, starting with older films/shorts (late 1980s-mid 1990s), moving toward those produced more recently. Make observations together about the characters in each film. How many humans do you see portrayed in the older films, and how often do you see their faces? In later movies, when humans are more consistently introduced as characters, observe your family’s reaction. Do the human characters look less believable than non-human characters? How do these earlier human characters compare to newer human characters?

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