Films like Steven Spielberg's A.I. have challenged us to think about the nature of human empathy when applied to a non-living thing such as a humanoid robot. But now a new study indicates that, much like the parents in the aforementioned film, humans can and will form emotional attachments to robots.
Using fMRI scans, researchers at the University of Duisburg Essen have discovered that humans do, in fact, have emotional responses to how robots are treated. In the study, 14 participants were shown a video of various interactions with a human, a small robot dinosaur, and an inanimate object. The interactions showed each target being treated in a number of different ways, from violent behavior to affectionate behavior. Based on the fMRI scans, the participants' emotional responses to the treatment of humans closely mirrored their reactions to the good or bad treatment of the robot.