When adults view very realistic humanoid robots or computer avatars they often exhibit an aversion to them. This phenomenon, known as the "uncanny valley," is assumed to be evolutionary in origin, perhaps tapping into modules for disgust or attractiveness that detect violations of our normal expectations regarding social signals. Here, we test an alternative hypothesis that the uncanny valley is developmental in origin and, thus, that specific early experience with real human faces leads to its eventual emergence. To test this idea, we measured visual preferences in response to all possible pairs of a human face, realistic avatar face, and an unrealistic avatar face in groups of 6-, 8-, 10-, and 12-month-old infants. Consistent with the developmental hypothesis, we found that the uncanny valley effect emerges at 12 months of age suggesting that perceptual experience with real human faces is critical to its emergence.
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