The Uncanny Valley

Fenster writes:

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Maybe y’all knew this one, but it is a new one on me.

I have wondered for a while why kids (adults too) often prefer cartoons that depict characters in highly stylized ways — in some ways the less human the better.

Part of the answer may lie in the concept of the “uncanny valley.”  According to Wikipedia “the uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers.”

The phenomenon can be measured but, as is the case with aspects of behavior with likely roots in our evolutionary history, the ability to measure at present seems to be running ahead of theoretical understanding much beyond conjecture.

A number of theories  put forth to explain the phenomenon.  Just on the basis of surface appeal, and in thinking about my own reactions, this one seems credible:

The uncanny valley may “be symptomatic of entities that elicit a model of a human other but do not measure up to it”. If an entity looks sufficiently nonhuman, its human characteristics will be noticeable, generating empathy. However, if the entity looks almost human, it will elicit our model of a human other and its detailed normative expectations. The nonhuman characteristics will be noticeable, giving the human viewer a sense of strangeness. In other words, a robot stuck inside the uncanny valley is no longer being judged by the standards of a robot doing a passable job at pretending to be human, but is instead being judged by the standards of a human doing a terrible job at acting like a normal person.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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4 Responses to The Uncanny Valley

  1. The Uncanny Valley effect would certainly help explain my reactions to movies like “Beowolf.” Man that flick creeped me out.

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