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

Emily S. Cross, Katie A. Riddoch, Jaydan Pratts, Simon Titone, Bishakha Chaudhury, Ruud Hortensius

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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'.

LanguageEnglish
Article number20180034
Pages1-13
Number of pages13
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume374
Issue number1771
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

robots
pain
Robots
Pain
Pleasure
Socialization
Brain
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Parietal Lobe
Functional Neuroimaging
Robotics
Temporal Lobe
Electric Stimulation
brain
Emotions
Functional neuroimaging
Human robot interaction
emotions
cognition
probes (equipment)

Keywords

  • social cognition
  • social robotics
  • empathy
  • experience-dependent plasticity
  • human–robot interaction
  • fMRI

Cite this

Cross, Emily S. ; Riddoch, Katie A. ; Pratts, Jaydan ; Titone, Simon ; Chaudhury, Bishakha ; Hortensius, Ruud. / A neurocognitive investigation of the impact of socializing with a robot on empathy for pain. In: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 2019 ; Vol. 374, No. 1771. pp. 1-13.
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A neurocognitive investigation of the impact of socializing with a robot on empathy for pain. / Cross, Emily S.; Riddoch, Katie A.; Pratts, Jaydan; Titone, Simon; Chaudhury, Bishakha; Hortensius, Ruud.

In: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Vol. 374, No. 1771, 20180034, 11.03.2019, p. 1-13.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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