If you caught yourself tearing up while watching WALL-E roam a trash-infested, post-human Earth, you're not alone — and you're not crazy, either. Researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany have found that people empathize with robots the same way they empathize with their peers.
The scientists measured 40 subjects' reactions to watching a short video in which a faceless human behaves kindly towards a dinosaur robot, and another where the same bot is strangled and beaten. Participants were also shown videos of both a woman and, as a control-variable, a cardboard box undergoing the same treatment. Areas of the brain related to empathy were slightly more active during the scenes of human torture than they were during the dinosaur abuse, and even moreso than the cardboard-torture scenes. So, that's good. Even though we can't seem to live without them, we haven't hopelessly fallen in love with our gadgets yet, .
This study shows further proof that humans will anthropomorphize just about anything, even if it's just a poor little piece of stiff paper — hey, he's just trying to live his life and do his cardboard-mom proud! The study's authors also noted that this may be the beginning of a dangerous chain of events leading to a robot-apocalypse and the realization of events foretold by the prophet Arnold Schwarzenegger. Okay, we made that last part up. (The Atlantic)
Photo: Courtesy of Disney Pixar.