Journal article Open Access

How attitudes generated by humanoid robots shape human brain activity.

Di Cesare, Giuseppe; Vannucci, Fabio; Rea, Francesco; Sciutti, Alessandra; Sandini, Giulio

During interpersonal interactions, people perform actions with different forms of vitality, communicating their positive or negative attitude toward others. For example, a handshake can be “soft” or “vigorous”, a caress can be ‘kind’ or ‘rushed’. While previous studies have shown that the dorso-central insula is a key area for the processing of human vitality forms, there is no information on the perception of vitality forms generated by a humanoid robot. In this study, two fMRI experiments were conducted in order to investigate whether and how the observation of actions generated by a humanoid robot (iCub) with low and fast velocities (Study 1) or replicating gentle and rude human forms (Study 2) may convey vitality forms eliciting the activation of the dorso-central insula. These studies showed that the observation of robotic actions, generated with low and high velocities, resulted in activation of the parieto-frontal circuit typically involved in the recognition and the execution of human actions but not of the insula (Study 1). Most interestingly, the observation of robotic actions, generated by replicating gentle and rude human vitality forms, produced a BOLD signal increase in the dorso-central insula (Study 2). In conclusion, these data highlight the selective role of dorso-central insula in the processing of vitality forms opening future perspectives on the perception and understanding of actions performed by humanoid robots.

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