Brain response to a humanoid robot in areas implicated in the perception of human emotional gestures

Thierry Chaminade*, Massimiliano Zecca, Sarah Jayne Blakemore, Atsuo Takanishi, Chris D. Frith, Silvestro Micera, Paolo Dario, Giacomo Rizzolatti, Vittorio Gallese, Maria Alessandra Umiltà

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The humanoid robot WE4-RII was designed to express human emotions in order to improve human-robot interaction. We can read the emotions depicted in its gestures, yet might utilize different neural processes than those used for reading the emotions in human agents. Methodology: Here, fMRI was used to assess how brain areas activated by the perception of human basic emotions (facial expression of Anger, Joy, Disgust) and silent speech respond to a humanoid robot impersonating the same emotions, while participants were instructed to attend either to the emotion or to the motion depicted. Principal Findings: Increased responses to robot compared to human stimuli in the occipital and posterior temporal cortices suggest additional visual processing when perceiving a mechanical anthropomorphic agent. In contrast, activity in cortical areas endowed with mirror properties, like left Broca's area for the perception of speech, and in the processing of emotions like the left anterior insula for the perception of disgust and the orbitofrontal cortex for the perception of anger, is reduced for robot stimuli, suggesting lesser resonance with the mechanical agent. Finally, instructions to explicitly attend to the emotion significantly increased response to robot, but not human facial expressions in the anterior part of the left inferior frontal gyrus, a neural marker of motor resonance. Conclusions: Motor resonance towards a humanoid robot, but not a human, display of facial emotion is increased when attention is directed towards judging emotions. Significance: Artificial agents can be used to assess how factors like anthropomorphism affect neural response to the perception of human actions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11577
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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