Star Wars’ R2-D2 shows that a robot—even one that looks more like a trash can than a person—can make people laugh and cry. Now, in research to be presented at the International Communication Association conference in London, scientists have shown that when the human brain witnesses love for or violence against a robot, it reacts in much the same way as if the robot were human.
Engineers worldwide are developing robots to act as companions for people—for instance, to help the elderly at home or patients in hospitals. However, after the novelty of using a robot fades, people often feel less interested in using them. Scientists want to learn how to create more-engaging robots, but there has been little systematic research on how people react emotionally toward them.