The shaping of social perception by stimulus and knowledge cues to human animacy

Emily S. Cross*, Richard Ramsey, Roman Liepelt, Wolfgang Prinz, Antonia F. de C. Hamilton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


Although robots are becoming an ever-growing presence in society, we do not hold the same expectations for robots as we do for humans, nor do we treat them the same. As such, the ability to recognize cues to human animacy is fundamental for guiding social interactions.We review literature that demonstrates cortical networks associated with person perception, action observation and mentalizing are sensitive to human animacy information. In addition, we show that most prior research has explored stimulus properties of artificial agents (humanness of appearance or motion), with less investigation into knowledge cues (whether an agent is believed to have human or artificial origins). Therefore, currently little is known about the relationship between stimulus and knowledge cues to human animacy in terms of cognitive and brain mechanisms. Using fMRI, an elaborate belief manipulation, and human and robot avatars, we found that knowledge cues to human animacy modulate engagement of person perception and mentalizing networks, while stimulus cues to human animacy had less impact on social brain networks. These findings demonstrate that self–other similarities are not only grounded in physical features but are also shaped by prior knowledge. More broadly, as artificial agents fulfil increasingly social roles, a challenge for roboticists will be to manage the impact of pre-conceived beliefswhile optimizing human-like design.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20150075
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1686
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2015. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • social cognition
  • social robotics
  • animacy
  • fMRI
  • action observation network
  • mentalizing


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