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Scientists now know how to make robots less creepy looking

A group of programmable humanoid Nao robots, developed by a French company Aldebaran Robotics, perform dance inside the France Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo in Shanghai, China Friday, June 18, 2010. (AP Photo)
AP Photo
Don’t overdo it, guys.
By Matt Phillips
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

It melts your heart when puppies do it.

And robots, too, apparently.

Yes, the simple head tilt just might be the breakthrough gesture that makes humanoid robots less creepy to deal with. A paper published in Computers in Human Behavior shows that people are much more amenable to the presence of androids when the robot heads are tilted, rather than ramrod straight.

“Compared to an upright head posture, we found higher scores for attributed human likeness, cuteness, and spine-tinglingness when the identical robots conveyed a head tilt,” wrote the study’s authors, Martina Mara and  Markus Appel, who based their findings on a survey of 402 US residents.

There’s well-established literature about the fact that people find human-like robots unsettling, starting work by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori, who in 1970 introduced the idea of the “uncanny valley,” to describe the eerie sensibility of human-like robots.

The authors of the new study postulate a number of reasons why the lateral tilt of a head may mitigate the issue. At the heart of their theories is the assumption that “head tilting is associated with submission, appeasement, ingratiation, or a request for protection. This meaning might have developed because head tilts expose a highly vulnerable part of the human body (the carotid artery) and reduce the overall height of a person.”

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