November 3, 2015

Measuring empathy for human and robot hand pain using electroencephalography

We measured event-related potentials of human participants who were observing
pictures of painful or non-painful situations with human hands or robot hands (Fig. 1).

(November 3, 2015)  Abstract

This study provides the first physiological evidence of humans’ ability to empathize with robot pain and highlights the difference in empathy for humans and robots. We performed electroencephalography in 15 healthy adults who observed either human- or robot-hand pictures in painful or non-painful situations such as a finger cut by a knife. We found that the descending phase of the P3 component was larger for the painful stimuli than the non-painful stimuli, regardless of whether the hand belonged to a human or robot. In contrast, the ascending phase of the P3 component at the frontal-central electrodes was increased by painful human stimuli but not painful robot stimuli, though the interaction of ANOVA was not significant, but marginal. These results suggest that we empathize with humanoid robots in late top-down processing similarly to human others. However, the beginning of the top-down process of empathy is weaker for robots than for humans.

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