Emotion attribution to a non-humanoid robot in different social situations

PLoS One. 2014 Dec 31;9(12):e114207. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0114207. eCollection 2014.


In the last few years there was an increasing interest in building companion robots that interact in a socially acceptable way with humans. In order to interact in a meaningful way a robot has to convey intentionality and emotions of some sort in order to increase believability. We suggest that human-robot interaction should be considered as a specific form of inter-specific interaction and that human-animal interaction can provide a useful biological model for designing social robots. Dogs can provide a promising biological model since during the domestication process dogs were able to adapt to the human environment and to participate in complex social interactions. In this observational study we propose to design emotionally expressive behaviour of robots using the behaviour of dogs as inspiration and to test these dog-inspired robots with humans in inter-specific context. In two experiments (wizard-of-oz scenarios) we examined humans' ability to recognize two basic and a secondary emotion expressed by a robot. In Experiment 1 we provided our companion robot with two kinds of emotional behaviour ("happiness" and "fear"), and studied whether people attribute the appropriate emotion to the robot, and interact with it accordingly. In Experiment 2 we investigated whether participants tend to attribute guilty behaviour to a robot in a relevant context by examining whether relying on the robot's greeting behaviour human participants can detect if the robot transgressed a predetermined rule. Results of Experiment 1 showed that people readily attribute emotions to a social robot and interact with it in accordance with the expressed emotional behaviour. Results of Experiment 2 showed that people are able to recognize if the robot transgressed on the basis of its greeting behaviour. In summary, our findings showed that dog-inspired behaviour is a suitable medium for making people attribute emotional states to a non-humanoid robot.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Attitude
  • Dogs
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Guilt
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Robotics*
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This study was supported by grants received from the European Union (EU FP7 ICT: Living with robots and interactive companions, LIREC 215554), the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group (01 031), the Hungarian Research Fund (OTKA K100951), and the ESF Research Networking Programme “CompCog”: The Evolution of Social Cognition (www.compcog.org) (06-RNP-020). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.