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The eyes are the window to the uncanny valley: Mind perception, autism and missing souls

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Horror movies have discovered an easy recipe for making people creepy: alter their eyes. Instead of normal eyes, zombies’ eyes are vacantly white, vampires’ eyes glow with the color of blood, and those possessed by demons are cavernously black. In the Academy Award winning Pan’s Labyrinth, director Guillermo del Toro created the creepiest of all creatures by entirely removing its eyes from its face, placing them instead in the palms of its hands. The unease induced by altering eyes may help to explain the uncanny valley, which is the eeriness of robots that are almost—but not quite—human (Mori, 1970). Much research has explored the uncanny valley, including the research reported by MacDorman & Entezari (in press), which focuses on individual differences that might predict the eeriness of humanlike robots. In their paper, they suggest that a full understanding of this phenomenon needs to synthesize individual differences with features of the robot. One theory that links these two concepts is mind perception, which past research highlights as essential to the uncanny valley (Gray & Wegner, 2012). Mind perception is linked to both individual differences—autism—and to features of the robot—the eyes—and can provide a deeper understanding of this arresting phenomenon. In this paper, we present original data that links uncanniness to the eyes through aberrant perceptions of mind.

Keywords: emotion; human-computer interaction; robots; theory of mind

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2015

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  • Social Behaviour and Communication in Biological and Artificial Systems
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