New approaches to the emerging social neuroscience of human-robot interaction

Henschel, Anna (2020) New approaches to the emerging social neuroscience of human-robot interaction. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Prehistoric art, like the Venus of Willendorf sculpture, shows that we have always looked for ways to distil fundamental human characteristics and capture them in physically embodied representations of the self. Recently, this undertaking has gained new momentum through the introduction of robots that resemble humans in their shape and their behaviour. These social robots are envisioned to take on important roles: alleviate loneliness, support vulnerable children and serve as helpful companions for the elderly. However, to date, few commercially available social robots are living up to these expectations. Given their importance for an ever older and more socially isolated society, rigorous research at the intersection of psychology, social neuroscience and human-robot interaction is needed to determine to which extent mechanisms active during human-human interaction can be co-opted when we encounter social robots.

This thesis takes an anthropocentric approach to answering the question how socially motivated we are to interact with humanoid robots. Across three empirical and one theoretical chapter, I use self-report, behavioural and neural measures relevant to the study of interactions with robots to address this question. With the Social Motivation Theory of Autism as a point of departure, the first empirical chapter (Chapter 3) investigates the relevance of interpersonal synchrony for human-robot interaction. This chapter reports a null effect: participants did not find a robot that synchronised its movement with them on a drawing task more likeable, nor were they more motivated to ask it more questions in a semi-structured interaction scenario. As this chapter heavily relies on self-report as a main outcome measure, Chapter 4 addresses this limitation by adapting an established behavioural paradigm for the study of human-robot interaction. This chapter shows that a failure to conceptually extend an effect in the field of social attentional capture calls for a different approach when seeking to adapt paradigms for HRI.

Chapter 5 serves as a moment of reflection on the current state-of-the-art research at the intersection of neuroscience and human-robot interaction. Here, I argue that the future of HRI research will rely on interaction studies with mobile brain imaging systems (like functional near-infrared spectroscopy) that allow data collection during embodied encounters with social robots. However, going forward, the field should slowly and carefully move outside of the lab and into real situations with robots. As the previous chapters have established, well-known effects have to be replicated before they are implemented for robots, and before they are taken out of the lab, into real life. The final empirical chapter (Chapter 6), takes the first step of this proposed slow approach: in addition to establishing the detection rate of a mobile fNIRS system in comparison to fMRI, this chapter contributes a novel way to digitising optode positions by means of photogrammetry.

In the final chapter of this thesis, I highlight the main lessons learned conducting studies with social robots. I propose an updated roadmap which takes into account the problems raised in this thesis and emphasise the importance of incorporating more open science practices going forward. Various tools that emerged out of the open science movement will be invaluable for researchers working on this exciting, interdisciplinary endeavour.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Colleges/Schools: College of Science and Engineering > School of Psychology
Supervisor's Name: Cross, Prof. Emily and Hortensius, Dr. Ruud and Debruine, Prof. Lisa
Date of Award: 2020
Depositing User: Miss Anna Henschel
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81883
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 08 Jan 2021 14:06
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2021 15:05
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.81883
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