A neurocognitive investigation of the impact of socializing with a robot on empathy for pain

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences
Emily S CrossRuud Hortensius


To what extent can humans form social relationships with robots? In the present study, we combined functional neuroimaging with a robot socializing intervention to probe the flexibility of empathy, a core component of social relationships, towards robots. Twenty-six individuals underwent identical fMRI sessions before and after being issued a social robot to take home and interact with over the course of a week. While undergoing fMRI, participants observed videos of a human actor or a robot experiencing pain or pleasure in response to electrical stimulation. Repetition suppression of activity in the pain network, a collection of brain regions associated with empathy and emotional responding, was measured to test whether socializing with a social robot leads to greater overlap in neural mechanisms when observing human and robotic agents experiencing pain or pleasure. In contrast to our hypothesis, functional region-of-interest analyses revealed no change in neural overlap for agents after the socializing intervention. Similarly, no increase in activation when observing a robot experiencing pain emerged post-socializing. Whole-brain analysis showed that, before the socializing intervention, superior parietal and early visual regi...Continue Reading


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