Prosthetic Hands More ‘Eerie’ Than Robotic Hands
November 12, 2013

Prosthetic Hands More ‘Eerie’ Than Robotic Hands

Lee Rannals for – Your Universe Online

A new study by The University of Manchester found people would prefer to look at robotic hands rather than prosthetic hands.

Researchers writing in the journal Perception said they found people perceive prosthetic hands as eerie, but making them look more human-like does make them more acceptable. The team said they hope their study will help improve designs for prosthetic limbs.

Previous studies have shown the closer a robot looks to a human, the more uncomfortable it makes people, compared to those robots that look nothing like a human. The latest study takes the focus off of robots, and puts it on prosthetic body parts.

Researchers asked 43 participants to view a series of photographs of human, robotic and prosthetic hands and grade them on a nine-point scale in terms of eeriness or human-likeness. They found prosthetic hands generally received the highest eeriness ratings and were rated as more human-like than the mechanical hands. However, prosthetic hands that looked more human-like were rated as less eerie.

“Our findings show hands are viewed in a similar way to previous experiments which have looked at faces and bodies,” Dr. Ellen Poliakoff, based in the University's School of Psychological Science and led the research, said in a press release. “Finding out more about this phenomenon, known as the uncanny valley, may help with the design of prosthetic limbs.”

Dr. Emma Gowen, part of the University's Faculty of Life Science, who also worked on the research, said the team hopes to continue their study to learn more about how the public may perceive prosthetic hands.

“We hope this and further research will allow us to learn more about social perception and what is special about perceiving another human being. Determining what factors contribute to eeriness can help us to understand how we interpret and respond to other people,” Gowen said in a press release.

In 2011, scientists used an MRI to help determine why people can perceive robots as being creepy. Animated films like “Polar Express” can give some people the creeps, along the same lines as some androids, so a team of researchers decided to look deeper into the matter. They found that it seems as though the brain is looking for expectations to be met, such as appearance and motion, when looking at human-like androids.

“As human-like artificial agents become more commonplace, perhaps our perceptual systems will be re-tuned to accommodate these new social partners,” the researchers wrote in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective. “Or perhaps, we will decide it is not a good idea to make them so closely in our image after all.”