Lifestyle & Belief

Humans have empathy for robots, new study shows


German scientists have found that people have just as much empathy for robots as they do for people.


Fabio Muzzi

Humans have empathy for robots, a new study has shown.

Researchers in Germany found that humans feel for the machines no matter what form they come in: terminator, droid or dinosaur-shaped.

The finding was made using fMRI brain scans and violent scenes against both humans and robots.

Forty participants were made to watch videos of a dinosaur robot that was either treated nicely or violently depending on the scene.

Using the brain scan, researchers measured feelings both toward violence against the robot and kindness towards it.

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People felt rather similarly when faced with violence and kindness towards people or robots.

Oddly, in surveys, people are less compassionate to robots but their brains tell a different story.

Even more oddly, the researchers say that their findings could one day help the development of robot companions for lonely or old people.

"One goal of current robotics research is to develop robotic companions that establish a long-term relationship with a human user, because robot companions can be useful and beneficial tools," said study author Astrid Rosenthal-von der Putten, in a statement.

"They could assist elderly people in daily tasks and enable them to live longer autonomously in their homes, help disabled people in their environments, or keep patients engaged during the rehabilitation process." 

The researchers will present their findings at the 63rd Annual International Communication Association conference in London in June.