What is the creepy valley theory

How do people on the autism spectrum experience the “uncanny valley” in HRI?

I know the idea of ​​the eerie valley theory in human-robot interaction, with robots involved nearly human appearance can be perceived as creepy. I also know that research studies have been done to support this theory using MRI scans.

The effect is an important consideration when designing robotic systems that can successfully interact with humans. To avoid the eerie valley, designers often create robots that are anything but human. For example, many therapeutic robots (Paro, Keepon) are designed to look like animals or to be "cute" rather than threatening.

Other therapeutic robots like Kaspar look very human. Kaspar is an excellent example of the eerie valley, because when I look at Kaspar, it scares me. However, people on the autism spectrum may not experience Kaspar the way I do. And according to Shahbaz's comment, children with autism responded well to Kaspar.

When applying therapeutic robots to people on the autism spectrum, some of the basic principles of human-robot interaction (such as the uncanny valley) may not apply. I can find some anecdotal evidence (on google) that people on the autism spectrum don't experience the uncanny valley, but so far I haven't seen any real studies in this area.

Does anyone know of any active research into human-robot interaction for people on the autism spectrum? Specifically, how does the uncanny valley apply (or not) when humans on the autism spectrum interact with a human-like robot?


The short answer is No . There does not appear to be a study that directly examines whether and how the uncanny valley applies to autistic children. At least a Google Scholar search with the keywords autism "uncanny valley" leads to nothing of the sort. However, I agree that this would be an extremely interesting and useful area of ​​research.

Keep in mind, however, that despite the fMRI and other studies, the Creepy Valley is by no means considered an established theory. This is in part because the Eerie Valley is likely much more complex than Mori first suggested, that is, it is likely not just human resemblance that affects our sense of familiarity, nor is familiarity the only factor affected (MacDorman, 2006). .

In my personal opinion, there is undoubtedly such a thing as the Creepy Valley, although it may not take quite the shape Mori gave it (Bartneck et al., 2007). Artists of all kinds have long been aware of this and have used it on purpose (e.g., Chucky or a zombie movie) or suffered when they fell in (the Polar Express is the most notable example). Several explanations have been put forward to explain this (Brenton et al., 2005; MacDorman, 2005; Saygin et al., 2010), and it has also been observed in monkeys (Steckenfinger and Ghazanfar, 2009), making it very likely evolutionary is nature.

If this is your area of ​​interest, I would probably examine how people with autism confront in general. There have been a number of studies in this area that used real faces (e.g., "Facial Features" from Scholar Search Autism) as well as artificial faces (e.g., Autism cartoon faces from Scholar Search)). That difference in deciphering facial expressions could explain why they don't seem to be feeling the effects of the eerie valley the way other people do.

For Kaspar in particular, Blow et al. (2006) goes into detail about the design decisions associated with Kaspar's face. In a YouTube video, Kaspar's developers also name predictability and simplicity as some of the reasons for its special design.


  • SA stick finger, AA Ghazanfar. "The visual behavior of monkeys is eerie." Procedure of the National Academy of Sciences 106.43 (2009): 18362-18366.
  • M Blow et al. "Perception of robot smiles and dimensions for the design of human-robot interactions." Interactive communication between robots and humans, 2006. ROMAN 2006. The 15th IEEE International Symposium on. IEEE, 2006.
  • KF MacDorman. "Androids as Experimental Apparatus: Why Is There an Eerie Valley and Can We Exploit It?" CogSci-2005 Workshop: Towards Social Mechanisms of Android Science. 2005.
  • H Brenton et al. "The Eerie Valley: Does It Exist?" proc HCI Annu Conf: Workshop on human animated character interaction, Edinburgh. 2005.
  • KF MacDorman. "Subjective Evaluations of Robot Video Clips for Human Likeness, Familiarity, and Eerie: An Exploration of the Eerie Valley." ICCS / CogSci-2006 Long Symposium: Towards Social Mechanisms of Android Science. 2006.
  • AP Saygin, T. Chaminade, H. Ishiguro. "The Perception of Humans and Robots: Eerie Hills in the Parietal Cortex." Proceedings of the 32nd annual conference of the Cognitive Science Society. 2010.
  • C. Bartneck et al. "Is the eerie valley an eerie cliff?" Interactive communication between robots and humans, 2007. RO-MAN 2007. The 16th International IEEE Symposium on. IEEE, 2007.

At the University of Pisa, Centro Piaggio, Italy, we discovered this years ago while working with a human-like robot and presented it in 2010 at the Autism Conference in Catania, Sicily.

One of the main facets of ADD / ADHD / Spectrum is awareness, meaning no small details are missing. The eerie valley phenomenon is likely to be more common among these people. As mentioned earlier, many people with sufficient ASD may not be aware of the signals they are receiving.

I would recommend making a conscious effort to stay on the non-human-cute side of the Creepy Valley as this is one of the shakiest reasons.

These robots look creepy because they look like deformed people and people with autism who have difficulty reading facial expressions and emotions may not notice the deformities in the robot. You could also react the other way around and get very scared and sneaked out by the robots. As someone with ADHD, I can tell you that they are definitely sneaking out on me. It's the ones you referred to that scare me the most, the futuristic robots from movies don't scare me that much.

I test positive for Aspergers Syndrome on highly validated tests and can read facial expressions sufficiently well to notice certain patterns in my daily interactions, and one of the most noticeable "common" patterns is the disgust / disgust pattern. Sequencing is pretty straightforward. I start to speak. Within 500 ms of hearing my speaking, the interviewees grimaced in the most hideous fashion. Then they want to leave / escape immediately by all means.

As I was exploring the uncanny valley as part of my studies of everything related to Aspergers Syndrome, I noticed the similarity of the reactions I get and the reactions described on Wikipedia.

Knowledge of the evolutionary importance of autism spectrum disorders (mainly fewer of them work, on average earn less money and anecdotally tend to have fewer friends than the average ... and money has its evolutionary basis ...) It seems to me that there is likely an evolutionary link between autism and the creepy talk concept.

Now I'm a "mild sufferer" according to the tests (I feel like I'm suffering a lot, but BELIEVE myself) so that I can read facial expressions in a way that doesn't seem to be more affected (?). So I seem right between the extremes where people mix and read well and don't mix well and people can't read well to get the worst of both worlds.

We use cookies and other tracking technologies to improve your browsing experience on our website, to show you personalized content and targeted ads, to analyze our website traffic, and to understand where our visitors are coming from.

By continuing, you consent to our use of cookies and other tracking technologies and affirm you're at least 16 years old or have consent from a parent or guardian.

You can read details in our Cookie policy and Privacy policy.