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Loneliness narrows the uncanny valley

September 9, 2014 | Telepresence Options

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Story and images by Michelle Starr / CNET

Starved for a little social contact? The face of a robot or doll will seem more alive to you than to someone with a brimming social life.

Talking to inanimate objects when you're feeling lonely may not be so strange after all. According to new research conducted by a team at Darmouth College in the UK and Harvard University in the US, we're more likely to perceive life in inanimate faces when we're feeling socially disconnected. In short, if you're low on human contact, you might start feeling a little less creeped out by the uncanny valley -- because those faces look more alive to you.

This is because, when people are starved of social contact, they start attributing human characteristics to objects: a face on a volleyball, for instance. Or a doll. Or... a robot.

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"This increased sensitivity to animacy suggests that people are casting a wide net when looking for people they can possibly relate to -- which may ultimately help them maximize opportunities to renew social connections," explained psychological scientist and lead researcher Katherine Powers.

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